Positive and Negative

The words positive and negative are used frequently in our culture, with positive referring to a desirable and negative to an undesirable situation. They are of course not an accurate description of any situation, and may be used mostly from convention and habit.


First, they arise from a comparison between a situation and a particular standard, and this standard is by necessity arbitrary. Our perceptions of the world is far too limited to even come close to any absolute truth. And we will also never reach a complete agreement about which standard to use. We filter the world in too many different ways.

And even if we could be confident in and agree on a particular standard…


Any situation is complex enough to have desirable and undesirable aspects, depending on how we look at it. One aspect of it may seem desirable, another undesirable.

Changing into its opposite

The situation will always change. What first appeared as desirable may now turn and appear as undesirable, and it can turn again into something desirable. This is described well in the Chinese story of the farmer and his horse.


And finally, any situation can be turned depending on how we relate to it.

A seemingly undesirable external situation can be turned into a desirable one, if we relate to it in a particular way (e.g. with gratitude and as a teaching). Gandhi was thrown off a train in South Africa, and this was the trigger that set him on the course of speaking up for the underdogs in South Africa and later India.

And a seemingly desirable situation can be turned into an undesirable one if we relate to it in a different way (e.g. with strong attachment). A person may win a large sum of money in a lottery, which – through lack of experience with dealing with this amount of money – may lead to a great deal of misfortune.


So – as with most abstractions – when we look into the terms positive and negative, their apparent substance dissolves.


A particular interesting way the term positive and negative are used is in describing particular emotions. Some are “positive” and other are “negative”, as if some are more valuable or useful than others.

From an evolutionary view, it is a relatively safe bet to assume that all of them have an important survival function – they would not be here now if they didn’t. From a voice dialogue view, we see how each voice on a personal level – including each emotion – is essential for the survival of humanity as a whole as well as for us as individuals. Even now, in our current inner/outer situations, they all convey important and essential information to us. And from a wider view, they are all expressions of Existence – in its inherent perfection.

The Western (European) culture is relatively strongly dualistic. There is a strong separation between body and mind, humans and nature, creation and creator, good and evil. And there is a value judgment attached to each end of these polarities – one end is “good” the other “bad” or “evil”. In this situation, it is natural that this view extends to and includes emotions, so that some are labeled as “positive” and other labeled as “negative”. Independent of whether it contradicts sense and inquiry or not.

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