Defining Oneself in Negatives

Earlier this year, I had a very impassioned post about people who claim they are low maintenance. The gist of the post is that a truly ambivalent person, in regards to their image, would not feel the need to say aloud how low maintenance they are and that there is an inherent attitude of superiority in such claims. Today I am pondering the broader issue, when people define themselves with negatives an the intrinsic problems with that mind set.

First off, let’s get on the same page. What I mean is: I am not superficial. I am not beautiful. I am not a smarty pants. I am not overly ambitious. I am not boy crazy. I don’t care about money. I don’t care about clothes. I don’t care about the color of someone’s skin.

As you can see, many of these negatives are positives. What I mean is that it is great to not care about some of these things. Others are assumed to be problems when they are natural or part of human nature, therefore being deceptive. In any case, defining with a negative carries a lot of baggage. It is a way to imply moral high ground and a way to separate yourself from a group. There is an inherent comparison, even when not intended. If it sounds like I am just playing linguistic tricks or reading too much into this, I have considered that and looked into a lot of different contexts and there often is a very different tone involved when someone is using a negative instead of the positive version.

Another problem is that a negative is very ill defined and rarely carries much actual information. It is considerably less thoughtful to use a negative than to really think about and define the positive version of the same sentiment. It makes the issue hazy and vague. It over simplifies, suggests that there is a strict dichotomy between good and bad. Saying what you are is much more complicated, but far more descriptive.

There is also an inherent argument in negatives. They push the listener/reader to say, is that true? When often it isn’t a matter of true or false, good or bad.

For example, I could say, “I am not superficial.” It would encourage people to prove that I am indeed superficial. It would say nothing about what I actually am, if not superficial. And it would be deceptive because the world isn’t made up of superficial and non-superficial people, everyone is somewhere in between the two.

It means more to say, “I value people based on their actions, their sentiments, their emotions, their sense of responsibility to their family, friends and the world at large. I love to discover people truly, and find out who they want to be. I value myself for my own internal voice and my creativity and for what I can bring out in others.” It isn’t as simple, but nothing truly ever is.

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