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Katie van Schaijik

Another frowned-upon emotion

Oct. 12, 2009, at 10:49am

A Wall Street Journal review of two pessimistic books meshes nicely with Podles’ point about anger denial.

“Bright-Sided” opens with Ms. Ehrenreich’s discovery that she has breast cancer. Immediately she finds herself drawn into the intensely feminine, beribboned world of the modern sufferer, with its cuddly stuffed bears, personal-testimony Web sites and insistence that the patient put on a happy face: “Positive thinking seems to be mandatory in the breast cancer world,” she realizes, “to the point that unhappiness requires a kind of apology.”

Americans disallow unhappiness; Christians disallow anger.
I’d say American Christians have a serious reality-deficit problem to contend with.


Scott Johnston • Oct 30, 2009 - 10:53 pm

I wonder if some of the genesis of the overemphasis on putting on a happy face is yet another way that American culture rejects the cross. By encouraging others to smile through their troubles, we conveniently get out of having to “suffer-with” those who are afflicted.

Do we, perhaps, reject the cross that we are called to take up—the cross of compassion (suffering-with)—by removing the suffering face of others from our midst? If we get the afflicted to simply put on a happy-face, the outward signs of grief which we might otherwise be called to enter into are hidden, and thus we do not have to respond. It is far easier and more convenient for us to respond to a fake smile than to respond to genuine tears.

I have seen this in hospital settings. Visitors, highly averse to pain and suffering, coax an ill loved one to play along and pretend things are OK. Then, after they leave, the patient is left to cry alone. No one to suffer-with them, to share their cross. One wonders who really benefits when a visitor discourages outward signs of grief. The patient, or the visitor who doesn’t want to deal with the full human depth and piercing reality of suffering?

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