The Downside of Positivity And The Only Thing That Fills The Darkness: NYT Interview with Kate Bowler

The New York Times recently featured a Q&A with Duke Divinity Historian, cancer survivor, and mother Dr. Kate Bowler on living in the midst of a pandemic. Dr. Bowler’s insights on fear, prayer, love, and the downsides of positivity provide bold hope in the midst of chaos. Below are a few of her responses that were particularly insightful. Check out the rest of the article here.

NYT: What is that revealing about the collective soul of the country, or the world, right now?

KB: I think it’s painful for everyone to know that there’s just not a lot of room between anybody and the very edge. It really does run counter to the whole American story. It’s a story about how scrappy individuals will always make it, and it’s a story about how Americans’ collective self-understanding will always build something that will save the nation. And currently both things are not true. Everyone else in the world will suffer too, but I don’t think they will suffer nearly the same cultural disillusionment because they didn’t have that account of exceptionalism.

KB: The idea that we’re all supposed to be positive all the time has become an American obsession. It gives us momentum and purpose to feel like the best is yet to come. But the problem is when it becomes a kind of poison, in which it expects that people who are suffering — which is pretty much everyone right now — are somehow always supposed to find the silver lining or not speak realistically about their circumstances.

The main problem is that it adds shame to suffering, by just requiring everyone to be prescriptively joyful. If I see one more millionaire on Instagram yell that she is choosing joy, while selling journals in which stay-a- home moms are supposed to write joy mantras, I am going to lose my mind!

KB: For me part of the joy of prayer is having abandoned the formula. I have no expectation that prayer works in a direct way. But I do hope that every person, religious or not, feels the permission to say, “I’m at the edge of what I know. And in the face of the sea of abyss, someone out there please show me love.” Because that’s to me the only thing that fills up the darkness. It’s somehow in there, the feeling that I am not for no reason. And that doesn’t mean anything better is going to happen to me, but in the meantime that I will know that we all are deeply and profoundly loved. That’s my hope for everybody.

 

Photo Credit: Slashfilm

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