The Dead End of Nuance: Playing With Positivity and Negativity

Nuance is bringing conflicting data to the surface at the same time. “This is true, but the opposite thing is also true.”

When someone asks you how you’re doing, you just say “good”. Only when things are so overwhelming horrible that you can’t find anything good do you say “eh, been better.”

Conversations are an exchange. You give me something, I give you something in return.

In many casual conversations a meta-goal is to make this transaction as clear as possible. Presenting conflicting information muddles things. It’s unfair to the person you’re talking to to put them in a situation that they don’t know what you’re looking for.

“How are you?”

“I’m good!” —> “Great, glad to hear it!”

“Been better” —> “Chin up, things will improve soon!”

Anything in the middle and it’s like “dude what do you want from me?” Saying something is “fine” makes you seem disinterested. I tend to fall into the “fine” trap because it feels truthful. But what feels like nuance is a dead end.

Lately I’ve found that playing with the ends of the emotional barbell leads to much better results. Just because you present one emotion doesn’t mean it’s the only one there. But picking one lets people know what you’re looking for, and the conversation becomes easier, clearer, and more interesting.

Which side of the barbell—positive or negative—should you play on?

The positive perspective is more convivial. If you don’t know someone very well, welcome them with positivity. Especially in the U.S. where positivity is the norm, it’s the better starting point for introducing yourself.

But once you know someone better, there’s no reason not to explore the negative. The negative perspective is always funnier and more interesting. It’s stepping outside ourselves and laughing: “what are we even doing?”

But each end also has its own pitfalls at the extremes.

Drive conversations towards the negative too much and you end up in bummersville. Laughing at a comedy of errors can slip into pathetic self-pity, and observing interesting failure points can turn into nihilism.

Drive conversations towards the positive too much and you end up in lala land. No one ends up saying anything and everyone is keeping up an act that everything is perfect.

So forget “posi” people doing their best to stay away from negative energy, and nihilists hopelessly throwing up their hands at the idiots of the world. Find people where you can play with the push and pull of the negative and positive.

Feeling hopeless and tired? Inject some positivity! Focus on the good, the things you love, the people you admire.

Feeling restless and dull? Get negative! What out there is broken? Who’s the idiot who got us there in the first place and how do you fix it?

So give nuance a rest. Instead, try pushing playfully in the direction of the perspective that you need most.


Sign up for my newsletter if you enjoyed this piece.
I’ll let you know when I write something new!