02/25/2014 06:29 pm ET Updated Apr 27, 2014

Saying No to the Missionaries of Positive

Dignity and honesty are frequently part and parcel of integrity, a positive value to be almost sure. So here's to making a case that during cancer treatments and diagnosis, as well as in so many other difficult conditions of life, it seems that we under-value honesty to our detriment. All the while we create philosophical tenets that can bully people into feeling inadequate, and alienate them into states of aloneness that not being understood in times of need can result in.

There is a missionary zeal in the offerers of positive, in many of them. In addition, many "missionaries "are not only selling the "positive" saving graces of their particular religion, they are also selling the warning piece. The warning is there is hell to pay (literally it seems) for not joining up and in. Here it may be more like the wagging of a superficially gentle finger as the concerned party goes, "You know! (three syllables for the word "know") A positive outcome physically is determined by a positive attitude mentally." Therefore the less than happy campers, those like me as yet unwilling to adhere to the term "journey" as applied to this cancer deal, just might be doomed to a particular kind of hell in terms of the results of chemo, surgeries, future prognosis. etc. Additionally, some other people get turned off and discouraged themselves to be in the company of someone not receiving their teaching, their supposed gifts. As one fundamentalist Christian told me there would not be any mercy for me in the Kingdom of later on, since I had had access to the texts of the New Testament and thus my refusal to abide by it would be all my responsibility, so it feels with the missionaries of positive: "We warned you, we gave you the information, now it's up to you to succeed or fail."

In all fairness, the capacity to say "No" is an achievement in life. It starts, in Western cultures -- when it is allowed -- as not only a refusal but a developmental milestone in the exhilarating awareness within a child of the capacity to be and feel empowered. "No" is a word many toddlers literally are in love with, and if the relationships involve mutuality and attunement the "no" doesn't become a compulsive refusal but rather something we can call on when we need it.

Well, I need it now, and from my conversations with others, many people need not to be bullied into premature acquiescence -- or pleasantness, for that matter. As we need not to be pressured into embracing this as though it were another opportunity for something wonderfully poetic as in "the cancer journey." "Journey" has in fact the connotation of something to be embraced. Its synonyms include: trip, expedition, voyage, cruise, jaunt, something to be embarked on wholeheartedly.

The funny -- as in odd -- thing about saying no to what can often seem like the need of others to have a positive outcome of their interventions and advice, is that the "No" can in fact lead to being proactive in ways that are positive on deeper levels. Of course staying locked in a despair that congeals as the only reality, can hurt anyone. And to be sure there is help that needs to be given or offered here, just not the kind of finger wagging that is lacking in respect for the diversity of inner states and outer reactions that accompany a trauma for any given person, the diversity and timing of any given process.

In my own case my anger at the pressure to be positive, has yielded my becoming closer to people who can understand where I'm coming from. But it has also led to my being more proactive than ever in interviewing alternative health professionals to add to my roster of helping people. I want people with something to add to me who don't need to act as if their word or style or philosophy ( religion?) is the only way to Rome or Jerusalem, or to helping me. The anger of any people who are put in a corner and made to feel less than because they aren't like the pretty people or the smiling people or the people of this second who are achieving fame and adulation, is necessary at some point to claim the dignity of finding one's own process and being loyal to it.

The point here is not to bash or even to demean those who are scared themselves in the face of the unknown. Perhaps it can help to know that part of getting better or getting through these rough parts of life includes a yearning for witnesses, for company. But often it is better to hear the "I don't know what to say" than a prepared reception or prescription. Few people, I think, want to be left alone during these struggles, we just don't want to be judged for having a timing different than that superimposed on us by so called experts who have made positivity its own god. The anger felt, the need to do things "my way" as much as I can is in fact positive and I'd like it and this and me accepted for that.

We live in a world where words are abundant, mantras come for every second or every kind of experience of life. Perhaps we would do better to make the space to listen more fully. And for those of us who need to carve out that space to be heard by another or to hear ourselves, we don't have to say yes to every traveling salesman or missionary that comes knocking.

We could instead -- conceivably that is -- help each other to hear and be heard, to listen, to feel, to grow, and to connect more truly to ourselves and each other.