Friday, August 16, 2013

Give Pollyanna A Break!

Today I read this line in a blog post: "To be clear, it isn’t a Pollyanna version of positive thinking we’re going for." *

We all know what the blogger meant. "A Pollyanna version of positive thinking" is unrealistic, blindly optimistic, simplistic. 

Who really knows Pollyanna? If we have any idea who she is, most of us probably picture Halley Mills in the Disney movie. And that was a delightful film. But, as usual, nothing compared with the book. 

"Blind optimism" is not what the real Pollyanna (in the fictional story) promoted with her "Glad Game". 

In the book, Pollyanna tells the story of how her father invented the "Glad Game". Her father was a preacher, his wife had died and he was raising his daughter alone. The two of them relied on donations for most of their possessions. 

One Christmas, Pollyanna was hoping a doll would show up in the missionary barrel that they knew was coming their way. But the barrel, which was usually filled with whatever was available to pass on, did not contain a single toy, let alone a doll. 

It did contain a pair of crutches, though. 

You can imagine what a therapist, or modern novel writer would make of that. Tragedy. Hoping for a doll, getting crutches. 

A typical story accused of being too "Pollyanna" may have had some wealthy person (or "virtuous" government program that would take her from her father since he obviously couldn't provide for her) bringing her a beautiful doll. 

A typical story trying hard NOT to be "Pollyanna" may have had the little girl go on to a horrible life of crime and drug addiction--she couldn't help it, her childhood was so sad!

But, Pollyanna's father knew that growing up in poverty didn't have to be tragic, if you had the right attitude. So he invented the glad game. There is always someone worse off than you. There is always something to be glad about. The game is to figure out what that is. 

What was there to be glad about when you got a set of crutches instead of a doll for Christmas? 

Well, as Pollyanna learned, you could be glad that you didn't need the crutches. {it is important to note that for Pollyanna it was never "I am glad I am not that person" but "I am glad for what I have"}

For Pollyanna, that put her circumstances in perspective and, as children often do, she took the lesson to heart. Most of the book takes place after the little girl's father has died and she has gone to live with a wealthy, emotionally distant and severe aunt. She is in a small town filled with many unhappy people, feeling sorry for themselves, nursing old grudges, gossiping about each other and caring more for public acclamation than actual good works. 

Being glad no matter what does not always come easy to Pollyanna. She often struggles to find the Glad thing in her situation. And it is often her determination in the face of difficulty that causes others to sit up and take notice. 

Ultimately, with her "Glad Game" and her cheerful life-loving nature, she teaches the town to see the good in each other and the joy in their lives. 

Far from being "un-realistic" and "blind", being a Pollyanna means humbly admitting that things can always be worse. And those things in my life that I have little to no power over---things like the age and developmental stage of my kids, the size of the pay check we have chosen to live under, the amount of work it takes to feed and clothe and love the kids God has given me, even illnesses and disability---those things are crosses to bear, but they are not unbearable. And to "bear" them means to carry them with JOY. 

Is that easy? Of course not. 

But lets give Pollyanna a break. Playing her Glad Game can help us avoid the traps of self-pity and negativity. 

To imitate Pollyanna you need not pretend as if nothing bad has ever happened to you, instead you move forward, changing what you can and taking joy in the cross that cannot be taken away. 

*(no need to link to the post--it was a good post, but not about Pollyanna and I don't want to criticize the blogger for a passing reference.) 

1 comment:

  1. Having never read the book or seen the movie, I wondered if the snarkiness against all things Pollyanna was out of place, seemed to be jealousy of a type of intentional innocence.
    Thanks for the explanation.