Love them where they are at? Balancing toxic positivity with personal security.
I started re-watching "The Good Place" where they presented an interesting ethical (and psychological) quandary. Spoiler alert - plot elements are discussed below, in case you want to watch it for the first time.
Basically, the main characters have to prove that people can change for the better in order to save humanity. They've been sent this really obnoxious guy who truly thinks he's better than others, and that everything he does should practically be worshipped. He presents himself as the CEO type who diminishes others in such subtle ways that he doesn't think he's doing anything wrong, much to the annoyance and disgust of everyone around him.
The main characters are stumped with how to help him understand how to improve as a person, especially because he refuses to do any kind of internal analysis of how people feel about his behavior. He would instead victimize himself and say that any complaints from others were just ridiculous comments spurred by the "PC" (political correctness) movement.
My first thought was "love them where they're at." After all, sometimes we can't expect people to meet our expectations, and the best we can do is to encourage them to make better choices. That's what the leader character was trying to do, too.
But this guy crossed his peers' boundaries and they were not okay with that (and they had every right not to be). In the "real world," he likely got away with his behavior because he was in a place where he had the privilege to do so. After all, he bragged about how he never accepted handouts - he inherited his father's $50 million dollar company and built it up to a $54 million dollar company through his own hard work. Get the irony?
But in this afterlife situation, he was an equal with his peers. They could let him know that his behavior was not okay. They'd already built a relationship with him, which facilitated his ability to eventually accept their frustrated explanations that he had truly misbehaved.
It made me realize - "Loving them where they are at" really is a beautiful thing, but it can also serve as toxic positivity if used incorrectly. Sometimes people really do need to be told that their behavior hurts others, and it doesn't have to be done with shaming or excommunication. In the #MeToo movement especially, we're seeing how powerful people are no longer getting away with bad behavior that was previously just accepted as everyday evil that we can't change.
There are other times, especially in the world of therapy, where other people are incapable of thinking and behaving the way we may always want. Examples may include people with narcissistic tendencies or who've had traumatic histories which stunted development (and hey, who hasn't gone through that?). There's a difference though, between people who continue to behave poorly without any regard for others versus those who really do want to have a connection with others. Sometimes they really do struggle with internal analysis, but there are times when at least they recognize that they need to modify their behavior for others. With people who exhibit these behaviors, they may struggle with being confronted about their inappropriate behavior; many people have discovered that they need to find less direct ways to communicate with this type of person in order to get their message across. However, there's a difference across scenarios: Wanting your narcissistic parent to say exactly what you want to hear is different from dealing with a sexually harassing boss.
"Love them where they are at" may also be a coping mechanism, where we have to choose to love others despite their hurtful behavior through understanding that they can't do better but would hopefully be trying to do better. Knowing that we can't control others' behaviors, we can call upon ourselves to be better through eliciting our own sense of personal security in knowing who we are, and that we can continue to improve our own selves.
It's a tricky balance! When do you "love them where they are at" and when do you call them out for doing something that's not okay?
THE GOOD PLACE "Category 55 Emergency Doomsday Crisis" Episode 109. Pictured: (l-r) William Jackson Harper as Chidi, Kristen Bell as Eleanor. Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC