[Coral-List] Is it Ocean Optimism or Toxic Positivity?

Steve Gittings - NOAA Federal steve.gittings at noaa.gov
Mon Aug 24 16:12:21 UTC 2020

lt doesn't matter to me whether people feel optimistic or pessimistic.
Both can be motivating.  Regardless, we all have inherent leanings toward
one or the other.  All that matters is that we keep trying and don't let
negativity cause people to fold their tents.  No intelligent person
believes that there is a single solution to the coral reef
problem, regardless of the way scientific studies and scientists are
portrayed in the media.  It will take all those things you mentioned and
more.  I think it's fantastic that someone can still get outplants to
spawn.  That's part of the solution, and could be an important one in the
long run, so they should be encouraged to press on.  And so should those
trying to understand the genetics of corals, those controlling invasive
species, those working to improve water quality, those managing fisheries
on reefs, and those trying to control climate change.  We all need to do
what we do best to help the cause.  How we feel shouldn't dictate whether
we give up or soldier on.

On Mon, Aug 24, 2020 at 10:50 AM Steve via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> Dear Coral-Listers,
> I recently came across an article in The Washington Post entitled Time To
> Ditch Toxic Positivity, Experts Say - It’s Okay Not To Be Okay. Although it
> was primarily referring to how people choose to deal with COVID19 and
> widespread social unrest, I saw a direct connection to the ways in which we
> choose to cope with our growing consternation over the unceasing demise of
> the world’s coral reefs.
> https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/toxic-positivity-mental-health-covid/2020/08/19/5dff8d16-e0c8-11ea-8181-606e603bb1c4_story.html
> We all know that when faced with adversity it can be beneficial to frame
> things in a way designed to keep spirits high, but can too much forced
> positivity be toxic? Could this somehow apply to coral science today? If we
> don’t put proper emphasis on what we know is killing coral reefs and
> instead choose to promote short-term successes, are we “shutting out the
> possibility for further contemplation”?
> It seems that almost every day now I’m being bombarded by public outreach
> efforts that suggest that there are good reasons to believe that
> outplanting of genetically modified corals might be the solution to the
> coral reef crisis. As when forced to deal with negative emotions about the
> pandemic, everyone prefers to exude optimism, but psychologists warn that
> it can be problematic when people profess positivity in situations where
> it’s not natural or realistic (like when coral reefs are dying worldwide)
> or when there are problems that legitimately need to be addressed (like
> water quality; over-fishing; and climate change) and you choose instead to
> deflect attention away from major stressors onto something more rosy (like
> our outplanted corals are spawning!).
> So, I’m wondering, is anybody else concerned that this form of ocean
> optimism, though comforting and reassuring, may prove counterproductive in
> that it could delay the development of real solutions for the most critical
> issues at hand, or, is this just an indication that I have morphed into a
> dispirited old curmudgeon?
> Cheers?
> Steve Mussman
> Sent from EarthLink Mobile mail
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Dr. Steve Gittings, Science Coordinator
NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
1305 East West Hwy., N/ORM62
Silver Spring, MD  20910
(240) 533-0708 (w), (301) 529-1854 (c1), (301) 821-0857 (c2)

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