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Toxic Positivity

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

Repost from February 6, 2023


I am the board president of my community's equity group. The last couple years have been relentless as we have confronted the issues of racism, trans/homophobia, ableism, and antisemitism in our corner of the world.


As I reflect on the most recent issue facing our community that once again forces us to consider our systems and the people who hold the positions of power in them, I have been particularly in tune to the notes of toxic positivity in the conversation. And, I am reminded of how often I see this when MFRCC works with organizations to build inclusive cultures.



Toxic Positivity is the pressure to only display positive emotions or highlight positive accomplishments and suppress or minimize what are perceived as negative emotions, feelings, reactions, experiences, or issues.


Here are some examples of comments that reflect toxic positivity:

  • "You/They are always focusing on the negative"

  • "Why don't we talk about something positive instead?"

  • "It could have been worse."


At a minimum, toxic positivity is a barrier to growth - personal, community, and organizational. It prevents us from learning from failure, viewing challenges as opportunities, and creating stronger, more equitable outcomes. At its worst, toxic positivity serves as a tool to uphold systems of power designed to marginalize certain groups of people.


When we dismiss those who are being harmed, or are advocating on behalf of those being harmed, as "negative" or "causing trouble" we are denying access. We are effectively saying "we only allow those for whom the system is working to have a voice," or "my comfort is prioritized over your discomfort."


If you find you may be offering toxic positivity when in a hard discussion or trying to solve an issue, consider a few of the internal, collective, and systemic behaviors (how we act) and skills (what we do) to work on:



𝗜𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗻𝗮𝗹

𝘗𝘳𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘦 𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘧-𝘢𝘸𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴: What biases and assumptions am I bringing to the conversation? Why do I feel uncomfortable with someone else's "negativity?"


𝗖𝗼𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗲:

𝘖𝘧𝘧𝘦𝘳 𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘱: If we look at allyship in the context of toxic positivity, it pivots away from our own comfort and looks like centering the impact on the group/person being harmed.


𝗦𝘆𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗺𝗶𝗰

𝘚𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘗𝘰𝘸𝘦𝘳: Organizations and communities suffer and struggle where power is concentrated. Evaluate where you have power and commit to share or give that power to others.


Is toxic positivity a cultural issue in your organization or community?


-M




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