This is my declaration of war on negativity. Bang. Bang.

What do I mean by a war on negativity? Where is this war taking place? How am I going to do this? When I say a war on negativity, I’m talking about a contagious gloom, about a poisoning of rooms with bad attitudes, about unhelpful pessimism, about judging before knowing, about tearing things down instead of building things up. I see this at the school I teach at, I see that in myself, and a cursory scan of the news and our election season suggests that this battle could be fought everywhere.

How am I going to do this? Here’s what I’ve been trying to do:


Share things that are cool and helpful and explain why. That’s the golden rule. I am sharing things that I would want to see, or things I believe will be helpful to others. I do this in class, and I’m trying to do this on this website that nobody knows about yet. I try to do it more directly in real life too. The problem with the golden rule my excellent ethics and philosophy teacher at OSU taught me, the reason it isn’t the end all in moral philosophy, is that we want different things. You can’t just give people what you would want, if what you would want is counter to their preferences. It is also true that sometimes people don’t know what is best for them, or what they really like until they’ve been introduced to it.


When things are negative, try to be positive. This is hard. I feel sad, and for good reasons. And faking it isn’t enough. My boss likes to tell a story of a band teacher he worked with who used to tell her students, “I don’t care if you’re having fun, ACT like you’re having fun.” There is a lot to that, and there is more wisdom in the same vein. “If you don’t have anything nice to say…” At the very least, don’t spread the gloom. And shut your mouth if what you’re going to say is not going to be beneficial.

Fake optimism, fake cheer, fake fun, is fallacious fraudulent foolery. It’s dishonest and harmful. Let’s not get into that business. There is misery and gloom. There are pockets in our souls and spirits and histories that are dark. There are places in the world and on the block you live on, or on the street, or in the woods full of darkness and negativity. People are being abused in all the ways that can happen. Fake cheer is false and fraudulent and harmful. But so is spreading gloom on purpose. If the ship really is sinking, no use ruining the last song being played. But the truth is that there are a lot of things that are not awful and horrible, and some things are getting better. Studies in positive psychology come back to the idea of how we think about things being so important.

I am reminded of a story of a General who was informed that his troops were surrounded and outnumbered. He got excited and said something to the tune of “Great! They won’t escape us this time.”


I am reminded of Paul in Romans when he writes “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.” He’s talking about eating and drinking and what your conscience allows, but there is a principle in there we’ll use generally here. As an English teacher, I feel like an ambassador for so many things that you wouldn’t think needed defending: reading, spelling, considering multiple points of view, logic, listening, punctuation, poetry, the writing process, “launching expendable efforts”, etc. And it’s comical how much resistance (even among some of the adults) you get about these things at school. But I believe in a profound and deep way that my students, and the world, will be better off if we can learn and internalize the things that are potentially taught in a good English classroom. I pray that I can provide that environment.


I feel beat up. I feel drained and discouraged. I feel tired and like I’m running on fumes, and also tired of running on fumes. I feel like my battle plan has been what Rocky I was all about. Just keep going even though you’re being pounded over and over again.  Say what you want about me as a teacher, but I’m still here.

Let’s spend a moment and consider Rocky I and II. In the first Rocky movie, a washed up underdog, Rocky Balboa, in something of a fluke, boxes the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Apollo Creed. Apollo gets the decision, but the public opinion suggests that Rocky won.

And then there is that amazing scene in Rocky II where Apollo is scheming about a rematch (because he won, but people were saying that he didn’t really) and his manager tries to convince Apollo to let it go. The manager tells him he’s never seen anyone be beat the way Rocky was AND “he kept coming after you.” That’s how life sometimes feels. And school in particular. I’m tired of feeling like a boxer at the end of a fight when it comes to school. It’s true that I keep showing up. It’s true that my boxing skills are improving, but it’s also true that enough blows to the head can mess up your brain.


For what it’s worth, my battle plans on the war on negative are to share, to be positive, to be a good English teacher, and to not quit. There is a lot more to say about all this. About the importance of having a team, and having snacks and naps, and sharpening the ax. There is a counterpoint to positive thinking because sometimes negativity is healthy. Honesty is healthy.

Comrades, fellow warriors, please fight with me. I was reading this morning, rather serendipitously, a blog post by Bob Goff (“Why Sometimes The Best Thing You Can Do Is Pick A Fight”) where he discusses Joshua and being brave and courageous. But he also writes, “It’s easier to pick an opinion than it is to pick a fight.” I like that.

Opinions are easy. I live a lot of my life in my head. Actions are harder. And I’m off to school on another Monday to fight, but also, it is becoming more true, it really is, to play. And when a day at school is better categorized as PLAYING rather than FIGHTING, I’ll consider that good evidence on the battle against negative.

It might be a fight to get there, but it also sounds like a fun game.


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