The Positivity Quagmire

Matthew Raley
2 min readApr 27, 2016


Photo by Alexander-Przibill.

Trophies for everyone! You are aMAZing! Stay positive! Is this shallow spirituality a way to stay emotionally fit?

By shallow, I mean a spirituality that won’t risk saying anything about reality. It’s only about sentiment, about prompting positive energy with the totems of quotations, “like” stats, or inspiring images. The problem is negativity. The solution is motivational posters.

But reality doesn’t respect my positivity. It’s rude that way. Facebook reactions don’t save money. AWESOME selfies don’t raise job performance. Followers don’t equal friends.

When reality ignores my slogans, the shallowness of positivity becomes obvious. You have triggers? Here’s a kitten! You have crippling anxiety? Here’s a pill, a breathing exercise, and a victory-dance gif!

Here are some of the realities trampling our emotional health:

  1. Abuse. People have been physically, emotionally, and sexually assaulted. To offer them justice and redemption would be to venture into reality. So shallow spirituality replies to predators with stock photos.
  2. Conceptual poverty. We’re hazy on why a person is valuable without selfies. So we take more of them. What can spirituality say to people who just don’t believe their selfies are #AWESOME? If we wanted to persuade them of their dignity as human beings, we would point to dignity’s foundation in reality. But shallow spirituality can’t specify what that foundation might be.
  3. Alienation. We earn #luv by performing beyond expectations, and in this way our relationships become long-term hostage situations. Every affirmation increases our burden to perform. Shallow spirituality answers alienation with a photo of a guy spreading his arms toward the sunrise — which no one does unless they’re posing for a photographer.
  4. Pain. To see how suffering can be ennobling, we would have to explore the real world. So shallow spirituality just says pain is evil. Pain destroys your dignity and really messes up your selfies. So take your meds.

Let’s propose a barely adequate job description for spirituality: to mediate the real world to my emotions. Just that peek through the curtains at the reality beyond my sentiments brings me to axioms like Proverbs 3.7–8: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”



Matthew Raley

Pastor. Author. Violinist.