Just Say, “This Really Sucks.”
“You never say, ‘Guys, this really sucks.’”
A few days ago I started Superstore on NBC, a workplace comedy in the vein of The Office and Parks and Recreation. The above line was groaned out by America Ferrera’s character Amy, after all of the employees of a Walmart-esque Big Box Store get locked inside over night, and one of her coworkers tries to put a positive spin on the situation.
A seemingly innocuous scene, but I rewatched it. And then I rewatched it again.
It hit me that most people would probably misinterpret the exchange, perhaps extrapolating that we should all be more like Jonah, always looking for the bright side, and not Amy, the stick-in the-mud, who isn’t immediately thrilled about playing human bowling now that they have the whole store to themselves.
But honestly, we shouldn’t always be like Jonah. At least not right away.
Optimism is a tricky thing sometimes. The unabashed perky type of optimism can be great and inspiring, and it’s easy to label those who are not neck high in sunshine and hope as, “too cynical,” but the reality is people who can muster up that level of optimism usually haven’t had a life of it constantly being squashed.
Let’s look at Amy and Jonah.
Being a woman is draining. Being a person of color in America, I would imagine, is also draining. On top of that, she has been stuck in a dead end job for years, trying to support her husband and daughter.
But Jonah? Well he ticks just about every box in privilege bingo. He is a young, single, good looking, heterosexual white male. He eats kale chips and goes rock climbing. He can be perky because the fact of the matter is, life has not exhausted him.
Right now, I hear a lot of platitudes of, “Everything will be fine! The sun will still rise in the morning!” People are stressed about the increasing turmoil of the world around us, and so many are saying, “Just look on the bright side!” I myself have been guilty of this many times in my own life. I assure someone the answer is just to be joyfully optimistic, and all will be well. Of course I can say that though. Historically speaking, for me, and people like me, all will be well.
One of the few non privileged areas of my own life is being LGBT+, specifically within the LDS faith. And that means that there are some days where I am Leslie Knope, but there are some days where I’m simply tired. Where it’s just not in me to act like everything is ok. A little more than a year ago, I had a new roommate, Kirsi, move in. She was happy and bubbly and loved the church. A few days later came the church’s policy change regarding LGBT+ issues. I was angry and I was hurt and wildly unpleasant to be around. But she stayed with me. I left the house to go shove some fries and a milkshake from the 24 hour diner down the road in my face, and she came with me. She sat there, and listened to me rant and rage, and not once did she try and apologize or make excuses for the church. She just said, “That really sucks.” Well, something in that spirit. Knowing her she probably wouldn’t use the word “sucks.”
That meant so much to me. This woman sat down with someone she had just met and listened to her complain about something she loved without a hint of, “Yeah, but…” And she still is that way. Look, I have a testimony of the gospel that is simply not going to be uprooted by anything, but as an acquaintance of mine put it, “Being gay in the church is really shit some days.” Honestly, it’s not just being an LGBT+ Mormon that can be exhausting. Plenty of other things are there to answer the question of why someone may not exude smiles all the time. They could be perfectly capable of moving forward with hope, but certain people have certain advantages. Some are playing the game of life on easy while others are playing on Extreme Super Challenging. And that means there are days they might not be up for hearing about the, “bright side.” They just feel a never ending weight. On days where that is all that I feel, those around me are likely to get an earful of, let’s say, “The church is a constant disappointment who only manages to find it’s moral backbone when it is advantageous to them, but not when actual conviction is needed.” I cannot imagine that to be a pleasant thing to be around when you are a person who still loves and finds constant joy in the church.
But Kirsi? She always sits with me. She lets me cry. To quote LDS scripture, she mourns with me while I mourn.
So when I looked at Amy, tiredly saying, “You never say, ‘Guys, this really sucks,’” it clicked. The reality is that optimism and perky behavior are not synonymous. Sometimes someone who is more than capable of optimism is grouchy and exhausted. Amy is putting herself through college, she’s working to try and make her job a better place. People who aren’t optimistic don’t do those things, they just resign themselves to a miserable existence and never work toward more. But she has had a rough go in life, so her optimism may not come out in burst of starshine and rainbows.
You may think people around you are just complaining to complain, and easily label them as not fun and too cynical. But put yourself where they are. Think about the things your in life that have made it so easy for you to look on the bright side. Don’t ditch the optimism completely, but maybe sit and listen first.
At the end of that episode, Jonah does indeed just sit and listen, which she needed more than all of the sitcom antics that she and her employees ended up getting into that night. Often times, people are more than capable of seeing the positive themselves, but having someone be willing to share the burden of whatever it is they’re going through can be infinitely more meaningful.
Sometimes what we all honestly need is someone else to sit with us and say, “This really sucks.”