“We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.”
It has been shared back with me over the years and has been a rallying cry for many to share the incredible things that are happening in schools every day that people outside of the buildings have no idea is happening. I was even asked to provide a t-shirt that I have been so blessed to see people wear at my speaking events!
But I have also heard that the term being associated with “toxic positivity” which I can also understand, especially when the quote is used alone without any context or story.
Do I think “toxic positivity” is a thing? Of course I do.
Here is an example; let’s say my house is burning down and I stand in the middle of it and say, “Oooh! It is nice and warm in here!” That’s toxic positivity.
So what would be a good solution if a house is burning down? Find a solution quickly to save the house.
I see the original quote as more associated with being solution-focused rather than problem-focused. If you are looking for problems, you will always be able to find them. The same could be said about having that same energy for solutions.
Seek and ye shall find.
And where did I even learn to embrace this mentality?
My favorite place; I learned it from students.
Below, in this month’s “look-back” post, I share a story of the student assembly where this quote came to my head which was inspired by an incredible group of students. In fact, even though this post was originally written in 2015, I still keep in contact with students from that high school group, and the main protagonist of the story below is someone I talk to occasionally and have been inspired by so many times since that day.
Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is to ignore a problem. We can also become obsessed with the problem that we can’t see a way forward.
But as I learned from the students in the story below, finding and creating a better way forward can also inspire others toward positive action.
I am often asked, “How would you define leadership?” My answer, inspired by the students below; having the influence to inspire others toward positive actions.
This is something that was emphasized by the students’ example below.
I hope you enjoy this story originally written in 2015. I did a couple of edits and gave it the Grammarly treatment for better readability!
While doing a talk with over 1800 students, I went back and forth about whether I should encourage such a large group of students to use a hashtag while speaking. This is something I do all of the time with educators, but while many students are savvy with technology they might not necessarily see the benefit for learning. Since the focus was on using social media to make a positive difference in the world (Digital Leadership), I decided that it only made sense to promote a hashtag, and at the last minute, I decided to use one. Before I shared it with the students, I said to them, “I trust you and I want you to be successful, so please use this in appropriate ways.”
I started my talk, and as I do often, the first time I showed a video, I checked the hashtag and my mentions. This is a great way to see what students are learning/sharing/thinking, but also a way to connect with an audience. The first tweet that I saw was directed at me and extremely inappropriate. This was followed by two more.
I was devastated.
My heart sank and since I just speak from the heart, I felt that my talk could have gone in a more negative direction than where I originally intended to direct the students. It could have moved from “Here’s what you could do!” versus “What you SHOULDN’T do!” The focus of this talk was to elevate and focus on the possibilities students had to make their lives, and the lives of others, better.
So, I caught my breath, and by the end of the video that I was currently sharing, I resumed my talk. I did make mention how one little compliment can make someone’s day, and one negative comment could ruin it. Then I asked the students, what would you rather do?
I then saw one amazing tweet thanking me for being there and complimenting my presentation style. I called out that student’s name and said, “You have no idea how much of an impact you made on me by sharing that. Thank you.”
Then another student complimented me.
And it went on and on and on.
And it started from that one young man’s tweet.
By shining the light and giving attention to the person that did something positive, kindness went viral in the room and honestly, caught on the rest of the day. In fact, by the end when I took questions, one student asked me, “Can I give you a hug?”
I could have easily shut everything down, but that wouldn’t have made the room better or myself. By focusing on what kids can do to make a difference and saying, “I trust you”, the tide in the room changed quickly.
So what did I learn that day?
We need to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear.
I ended the day by telling students they don’t have to wait until they’re out of school to change the world.
Go lead today.
Thank you to the one student that made a ripple effect of positivity in the room, who not only impacted me but led the way for others.