Avoiding avoidance and inactivating inaction

Balancing positive and negative

Balancing positive and negative

By Jackson, college student (and my awesome son)

What is the greatest single cause of low engagement in causes or organizations, of a culture of inaction, and of eventual unhappiness and frustration? It is individuals focusing on avoiding engagement in negative activities (negative action) instead of pursuing engagement in positive activities (positive action). To put it more concretely, if I focus on a personal policy of abstinence, sobriety, and not hurting people close to me, then I am focusing on negative action. Conversely, if I focus on doing community service, high achievement in class, and building up my various organizations, then I am focusing on positive action.

The extremes of each are dangerous: a system of only positive action would compel every person to engage in every possible activity while a system of only negative action would leave every person frozen, unable to act because of the perpetual restriction. Every person must find the balance that suits him/her.

Problems arise on the personal level. Most people will naturally tend toward the negative action extreme. This tendency is harmless as long as the individual maintains sufficient amounts of positive action. It manifests by individuals not wanting to interfere with others or break the laws and rules around them. To avoid such drifting toward negative action, we must constantly analyze our actions, attitudes, and perspectives. If we are conscious and analytic of our behavior, we can determine easily which areas of our lives are based on negative action or positive action.

The issue of negative-action dominance is especially prevalent in my experience as a student. Far too often, the message is to avoid drinking, drugs, property damage, poor grades, cheating, etc. (all negative actions). The message excludes any positive requirements outside of class attendance (which is not even “required” in many colleges and universities). Unfortunately, this leads directly to a culture of inaction. Students can comply with every part of the negative-action message by sitting in their rooms and going to class when absolutely necessary. Such a culture is certainly stable and safe but hardly desirable.

In order to overcome the individual tendency toward the culture of inaction, it is incumbent on every person to alter his or her personal method of operation to 1) reflect more positive action and 2) ensure that negative actions are supportive of positive actions. We should do community service instead of refraining from damaging public property, propagate healthy and wholesome activities instead of abusing alcohol and drugs, and strive toward exceptional academics instead of avoiding receiving a bad grade. These can relate to each other easily- for example: I don’t drink to excess (negative action) because that will facilitate my pursuit of good grades (positive action).

Of late, I have been consciously utilizing more positive action approaches in my friendly and personal relationships. Instead of timidly trying to not hurt people’s feelings or to offend them, I have found it is more productive to instead focus on building the relationships through positive meaningful experiences such as a creating a squash league with my fraternity brothers or sharing adventures with my friends. This is not to say that a healthy relationship does not need discretion- of course problems should be directly addressed in a positive action manner instead of avoided for fear of hurting the other. It can be seen here how going to the extreme end of positive action can be damaging to a relationship. If I lose sight of what could offend my friends in favor of uninhibited action, I likely won’t keep people around for very long. A balance must ultimately be reached but, it is clear that more positive actions and fewer (or altered) negative actions will lead to greater engagement, higher productivity, and more happiness for all.