Its important to take a look at what traits, beliefs and attitudes make someone a “positive person.” Its also vital to point out negative traits which if not shed, result in one not actually being positive…even if they think they are.
Okay, so what does that mean? Basically, it means that there are some people who think they’re positive people but who, for whatever reason, continue to hold on to decidedly negative habits, attitudes and behaviors. For example, take our case study “Bill” – Bill says he’s a positive person and believes that he is, but in reality, he has retained too many of his old, negative, toxic traits. This is “Bill”…
Bill smiles often and tries to have what he believes is a good outlook on life. He is retired and likes to fish and play with his grandchildren — all of those things are in effect, good. However, Bill is also extremely opinionated and often becomes hot and agitated with anyone who has a differing view than his own. Bill is often heard to respond to someone who he disagrees with “What?! You don’t know what you’re talking about…let me tell you….” or “I believe what I believe and I don’t care how many facts you throw at me, I’m right an you’re wrong!”…. Bill is also very interested in politics and will try to steer as many conversations as he can toward that subject, despite family and friends telling him they don’t wish to talk politics. Furthermore, Bill relies on just one source for his news and he believe anything they report — he refuses to verify it and believes that they are the only reliable news source.
So can Bill behave this way and still be a positive thinker? Well, the answer is a bit complicated…
Bill, like millions of people, has what is called confirmation bias. In essence, this is a closed-minded approach to news and information in which the person who has the bias believes a certain way/thing and will seek out and/or rely on only those sources that they feel confirms their bias — often, they will even use selective “listening” in hopes of hearing someone confirm their biased belief (in other words, they only hear what they want to hear).
Most people have a basic psychological defense mechanism for managing information that they perceive as either strongly supporting or openly challenging their belief system — even if those beliefs are flawed or not even based in fact. When new information and facts challenge long-held beliefs, a fragile ego will typically:
- Dismiss the information as being suspect or “propaganda”
- Deny the facts and reject it as “fake” (it never really happened)
- Downplay the information/facts/story as “well, it might have happened, but its not nearly as bad/true/accurate as ‘they’ claim”
- Rationalize the information/facts/story as “both sides are really to blame….”
In every instance, the person who can’t or won’t accept reality, is pathologically trying to twist fact and reality to suit their own preconceived, most often inaccurate, views and belief of the actual facts.
“Confirmation bias is twisting the facts to fit your beliefs. Critical thinking is bending your beliefs to fit the facts. Seeking the truth is not about validating the story in your head. It’s about rigorously vetting and accepting the story that matches the reality in the world.” – Adam Grant
A person who allows confirmation bias to dictate their views can call themselves “positive” and perhaps they even feel happy most of the time. However, in reality, when we are closed-minded and refuse to accept facts simply because we don’t like them, we can’t truly be positive thinkers. To be a positive person means to be more open to change and receptive to the fact that people’s views matter and that truth matters — confirmation bias is really embracing falsehood over truth.