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It was all the rage.

Following 14-year old Jamey Rodemeyer's tearful "It Gets Better, I promise!" video, in which he tried to show how positive he was in the face of gay bullying, other well-know people posted similar messages. Sports figures, actors, musicians, educators, doctors, comedians, movie producers, company executives and employees, mayors, judges, Congressmen, et. al. (123 pages of them at last count) supported Jamey's promise. They assured us that it gets better.

In Jamey's case, they were flat-out wrong.

Sadly, Jamey committed suicide earlier this week. As a result, we expect there will be a rush to re-emphasize the message that it does get better. Positive thinking certainly gets good press through pop psychology. But, perhaps this might be a good time to check our premises.

There isn't any doubt that bullying about anything is destructive and is mostly considered unproductive (e.g., except in the context of helping people build strength and courage). But this sad story increases doubt that it always gets better. This story also casts doubt on the idea that looking at things from a positive perspective is... well... positive.

Millions of people coach us to look at negative situations from a positive perspective. The theory is that, if you change your perspective of reality, you change reality. It is based on ideas such as "nothing is real" and "it's all perspective" - ideas originating from a long line of well-known philosophers. For example, David Hume thought that nothing is real and that our minds are only a collection of perceptions. G.W.F. Hegel claimed that pure being and pure nothing are the same. Kant thought that appearances aren't real and depend upon perception.

But, in some sense, to believe that changing your perspective changes reality is an absurd concept. For example, looking at your computer as a glass of water doesn't change the nature of the computer. In other words, looking at reality differently doesn't change reality, nor does it change its nature.

Unlike matter, perspectives are very malleable. It takes only a thought to change them. To demonstrate the yin yang of that idea, from a positive perspective, it's terrific that we can change our perspectives so easily as it makes us feel better. However, from a negative perspective, it can be very dangerous to be positive in risky and/or negative situations. (Imagine running full-speed toward the edge of a high cliff while repeating to yourself with a smile "I'm not going to die.")

We don't doubt that context is important to consider, or that looking at situations from different perspectives can make us feel better or worse. We also don't doubt that a change in context provides different choices for our decisions. But one of the problems with looking at things from a positive perspective is that we typically ignore the negative aspects of reality. No matter how much Jamey tried to ignore the bullying and focus on the positive, the negative aspects of reality were still there. Mean people don't go away just because you ignore them. (Just look at politics for endless examples.) Such is the nature of reality.

There are important lessons to learn from Jamey's sad story. We should not refuse to see reality for what it is. We should not let our positive vision of reality take the place of what exists and its nature. We must not distort our perspectives in an attempt to feel better. We must integrate all information into our perspectives; not just the information that makes us feel good. We must focus on the nature of the evil - not ignore it.

Do you agree? In what situations have you refocused your attention on the positive aspects, only to later be hurt by the negative? Do you consider yourself a positive person? Besides feeling better, what are the good things that come from looking at negative situations from a positive perspective? What do you take away from Jamey's story? Knowing what you now know about Jamey, would you have advised him differently? What could have prevented Jamey's suicide?

Jamey Rodemeyer needed help. At 14, he was grappling with adolescent demons that could torment grown men.

And when he was online, he wrote about it.

"I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens," he wrote Sept. 9. "What do I have to do so people will listen to me?"

Just over one week later, Jamey was found dead outside his home of an apparent suicide.

In the months prior, he routinely blogged about school bullying and thoughts of suicide in between upbeat posts about his pop star idol Lady Gaga and the ordinary types of teen rants typical for kids his age.

On Sept. 8, he wrote: "No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you're the ones calling me [gay slur] and tearing me down."

He put up a separate post that day letting everyone know it was National Suicide Prevention Week...

Jamey denied that anything was amiss, she said. In fact, when the family went to its usual camping spot this past weekend, Jamey seemed happy. Even taunts from peers didn't seem to phase him.

"He used to cry about it, be sad and angry," Rodemeyer said. "But lately, he's been blowing them off, or at least we thought he was."

Given Jamey's prolific writings and raw commentaries online, could someone have intervened sooner and saved him?

Teenager struggled with bullying before taking his life


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Sep 22, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=649

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