flowing motion

The deep challenge to positive psychology: war

Posted on: May 1, 2008

Can and does positive psychology help us with the tragic and terrible events in life?

Positive psychologists focus on the positive and they raise two issues in mind:

  • How much use is positive psychology when life if really dreadful?
  • And aren’t we being rather patronizing to people in the midst of tragedy and despair?

I wonder what other positive psychologists would say.

Look at tragedy & despair squarely but not necessarily in the eye

I would say that we need to look at tragedy and despair squarely but not necessarily in the eye.

Be worldly

To use the analogy of wild animals, some animals become more aggressive if we stare them in the eye, but most will attack if we lose eye contact!  Worldliness is important and we need to understand the menace that faces us.

Have compassion for yourself and your journey

But there is a season for everything, and to continue the analogy, whatever drew us to the bush in the first place, has brought us to this predicament. We need to understand our predicament, and even appreciate it, within the context of our wider lives, within the journey that brought us to this place and will take us on to other places.

Poetry in dark times

It is so much more easily said than done.

In dark times, we value our poets as much if not more than we do in bright times. They mirror what we are feeling – our despair and fear – against a backdrop of our hopes and dreams.

Poetry from Zimbabwe in the dark days after the 2008 election

This poem is from Zimbabwe which you may know is in deep peril as they wait for long delayed election results to be announced. April has been a long month of waiting for them.

The poet is Comrade Fatso, a local musician, who has his own website and blog. I don’t have his permission to use his poem here. I hope he doesn’t mind. I hope, too, you visit his blog and leave a kind word. Or go to his website and listen to his music (it is for sale!)

Street fillers

The streets are empty.

The state has retreated.

So has the opposition.

All we are left with

are their torn posters,

pasted over each other

in a confusing collage of symbols and slogans.

We also have their space-fillers.

Riot police

aimlessly

walk the streets,

batons in belts

like forgotten cellphones.

Or sometimes

unconsciously

swung in the air

like a stick-picked-up-on-a-path.

They walk the streets

like the thousands

of unemployed H-town youths.

Space-fillers.

Like the pothole-filling youths

who have taken over the suburban streets.

Stopping traffic,

asking for donations,

filling potholes.

Unhindered.


The state has gone back to the drawing board.

The opposition has stayed away from its stay-away.

Its re-count and re-plan time.

And all we have are their space-fillers.

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20 Responses to "The deep challenge to positive psychology: war"

[…] The big even In Harare this May was waiting for the Presidential results to be announced. While Zimbabweans were waiting-and-waiting, and while the most horrible violence escalated, artists went ahead and held their annual Harare International Festival of Arts, with a catchy title, the Art of Determination. Pithy puns, in the midst of despair, and art that is timeless. […]

Positive psychology isn’t just about always being happy or all sugar plums. It is first of all a willingness to study the positive side of human behavior. Psychology traditionally only studied problems.

War is definitely not the POSITIVE side of human nature. Yet, side by side with war (term from Barbara Fredrickson Ph.D.) are those who take risks and reach out to save others, those who build coalitions they’d never have considered before, those who share and take care of each other. From every crisis we hear — if we look for them — stories of heroism, positive humanity and can be inspired. That is what positive psychology is about.

Have you been in a war situation, Joan?

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