On Toxic Positivity

“Saying ‘be positive’ marginalizes and isolates people,” she said. “I’m autistic, I have depression and anxiety and I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD. It’s not realistic to ask me to conform to these very specific, socially valued emotions.”

“If it works for you, it’s not toxic,” she said. “If it makes someone else feel invalidated, it is.”

Source: ‘It’s OK not to be OK’: Minnesota psychologists push back on ‘toxic positivity’ – StarTribune.com

If positive attitude changed everything, we wouldn’t need Universal Design. Precarity, systemic racism, ableism, and heteropatriarchy are built through policy and require changes in policies – not merely mindsets – to topple them. Sometimes we should be outraged and angry.

Judith Halberstam writes about the “toxic positivity of contemporary life”:

“As Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us in Brightsided, positive thinking is a North American affliction, “a mass delusion” that emerges out of a combination of American exceptionalism and a desire to believe that success happens to good people and failure is just a consequence of a bad attitude rather than structural conditions….. As Enrenreich puts it, ‘If optimism is the key to material success, and if you can achieve an optimistic outlook through the discipline of positive thinking, then there is no excuse for failure.’ But, she continues, ‘the flip side of positivity is thus a harsh insistence on personal responsibility,’ meaning that while capitalism produces some people’s success through other people’s failures, the ideology of positive thinking insists that success depends only upon working hard and failures is always of your own doing.”

Source: Making Room for Asset Pedagogies – Long View on Education

The more I loved myself, the less I was willing to accept toxic positivity that promised to heal me rather than help me exist in this body. The more I loved myself, the less I accepted momentary help at the expense of systemic change. The more I loved myself, the less I wanted acceptance from people who never bothered to know me outside of their own emotional need.

Source: Disabled And In Love With Me: The Ableds’ Worst Nightmare

My point, of course, is not that we should be relentlessly negative but that we should stop being relentlessly positive — and tiresomely stoic.

Source: The Overselling of Gratitude – Alfie Kohn

Positivity is often toxic, ableist, and steeped in deficit ideology. “Positive attitude!” is a fixture on ableism bingo cards.

See also,

Neurodiversity, the social model of disability, intersectionality, and equity literacy are necessary professional development.

As my neurodivergent and disabled family navigates healthcare, school, and life, I wish over and over that the professionals we interact with knew something about neurodiversity, the social model of disability, intersectionality, and equity literacy. We spend so much time educating folks in hopes they’ll gain the framing needed to see our family.

These are essential frameworks that every professional should be conversant in. In my experience, corporate harassment and discrimination training doesn’t really go into any of these. Wishing it did. Let’s bake them into our annual training and our company cultures. Let’s bake them into the curriculum for everyone. Those wanting to do ethical, inclusive, and informed work need to do the work of obtaining these tools.

Here’s my attempt at an introductory primer that got some good feedback on Twitter this week:

Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life

Further, we need MESH in our schools, our companies, and our professional development:

View at Medium.com

We all need these lenses and tools. Start baking them in so that the most marginalized and vulnerable people don’t have to provide free emotional labor and education over and over and over. It’s exhausting.

For “All means all” to actually apply to neurodivergent and disabled and marginalized kids, public educators need these tools.

To avoid building behaviorism and bias into our systems, tech workers need these tools.

Everyone working with other people need these tools.

We Exist As Friction

I highly recommend Liz Jackson’s episode of UX Cake, Changing the Disability Design Narrative, to all designers, tech workers, and educators.

Selected quotes:

…how do we insert somebody with a disability studies background into a design space so they can start asking the hard questions and the right questions so that we can get past this — this frame of mind that only thinks of disability in terms of just accessibility?

We exist as friction. The work that I do; it’s wildly painful.

People are creating interventions to get around actually having to talk to us.

And we burst that bubble.

But the thing is, is when you look at empathy, you realize that — that like other sort of charitable approaches, it’s actually caused just as many problems as the solutions that it’s trying to sort of create.

And so, if you boil it down and look at it step-by-step, you know, the first step is, is cultivating empathy. But to a disabled person, it can feel a little less like empathy and a little bit more like designers are coming in, they’re speaking with us, they’re observing us, they’re taking our life hack welcomes right? Our ingenuity, and then they’re going to sell it back to us as inspirational do good, right? Without ever giving us credit.

Source: Changing the Disability Design Narrative – UX Cake Podcast

Yes! We need disability studies folks in every school and company. We need folks who speak and live the social model of disability on our teams.

I’m disabled and neurodivergent with two disabled and neurodivergent kids. “We exist as friction.” I let forth a “hell yeah” when I heard those words. We exist as friction, and we’re constantly educating others on and hacking our way around structural friction, to the betterment of all.

disabled people, we are the original life hackers, right? Our innovative solutions have changed the world, right? Like, we created the Internet, we created the bicycle, we created the iPhone touch screen, we created audio books and curb cuts. And, you know, just item after item. And, you know, I think that it just demonstrates the value of really existing on the margins.

It’s tiresome work. We could use some help from abled and neurotypical allies working with us and alongside us instead of for us. Develop the lens.

…who is capable of developing this lens? I don’t think as a society we’re there yet, right? Like, we don’t always — we’re not so eager to have our bubble burst. Especially with one of the few things that sort of traditionally makes us feel good about ourselves which is what disabled people call inspiration porn, right?

Where the objectification of our body is used to inspire other people, right? Disabled people make everybody else in society feel better about themselves. And I’m taking that away. Right? And that’s not fun.

Develop the lens by changing our framing from deficit ideology to structural ideology.

Design is tested at the edges. Invite friction into our companies, schools, and teams. We’ll all be better off for it.