In Musing: Calling Pollyanna – insult or honor?

CAROLE VASTA FOLLEY

I have been called a Pollyanna more than once in my life. Alright, truth is, the moniker may have been tossed my way over a thousand times by now. Each and every one of those times, it rankles me to the core. It’s like being told I’m loud, when clearly, people, I’m just enthusiastic!

Besides, who decided that the person who sees the glass half-full is somehow a cockeyed optimist? I submit a glass half-full is not skewed information. It is what it is. A glass half-full.

Are positive perspectives scorned because people think they come from romantic idealists and are never, ever, based on fact? And, since I am on a query roll, who the hell is Pollyanna and am I related?

Turns out she is a fictional character from a 1913 children’s classic by American writer Eleanor Porter. Pollyanna is a young orphan who is sent to live with her stern spinster aunt in a fictional Vermont town. The young girl’s secret weapon is her life philosophy which she calls “The Glad Game.” Inspired by her father, the game consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation. As the story progresses, Pollyanna shares her positive ideology and transforms her aunt’s downcast New England town into a pleasant place to live, thawing many a miserable resident in the process.

These days, when you look up the meaning of Pollyanna, it reads something akin to this dictionary entry, “a blindly optimistic person,” and, in adjective form, “unreasonably or illogically optimistic.”

It’s the characterizing here, the “blindly” and the “illogically,” that gets my goat. Why does Pollyanna’s grace of goodwill and optimism earn the repudiation of those qualifiers? Can someone have a natural tendency to look on the proverbial bright side without being characterized as a saccharine goody two-shoes or, worse, a loon?

I get it. Many a person, myself included, does not want to be cheered when we feel anguish and despair. I respect that. Sad is not bad; it only represents another setting on our emotional scale. But, when I choose to mine for gold, whether in good times or bad, I buckle at the negative Pollyanna name calling.

Here’s the thing. I have had enough sorrowful experiences in my life to know I don’t have to seek them out. They arrive as a component of this human experience we call life. They’re the pain and suffering that are part and parcel of simply being. So, since that contrasting perspective is clearly defined and easily noticed, I set my radar to recognize and collect what is good, what is working.

I see now it is my own version of Pollyanna’s “Glad Game” and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The fact of the matter is just like there are tough things all around us, there are great things too. What we focus on is simply a choice or a habit. I propose that if you play Pollyanna’s game and collect evidence of positivity, you will not be fabricating, for there is great proof all around us. From the air we breathe, the blossom of the apple tree, the people we love, the song we sing, the food we eat – the good, the “glad” stuff, it is there.

So, call me Pollyanna. Wait! Even better, as I’m likely her long-distance cousin, call me Pollycarole. From now forward, I will choose to see it as only the finest of compliments.

Carole Vasta Folley is an award-winning Vermont playwright and columnist. Contact her at carolevf.com.

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