Positivity Too Far?


Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Blog by Joe Babaian

It doesn’t take an instant more, or cost a penny more, to be empathetic than it does to be indifferent.” – Brian Lee.

Let’s talk and think about #empathy and its value – both in terms of its subjective value and its return on (emotional) investment. The quote I selected for the lede of the blog makes the argument that employing empathy costs nothing more and the alternative is indifference. Having had the privilege to interact and work with so many great people in healthcare, I propose that empathy does have a varying emotional cost for most. This is not a negative, but an observation. The “cost” is the one of self-reflection that requires one to choose to dig deep and find your own emotional connection to the situation at hand. We’d be doing a disservice to consider this “free” – indeed, the effort is proportional to the outcome, countering indifference.

We can readily see that this cost is something that doesn’t drain us but allows us to act with purpose, wherever we find ourselves in healthcare. The “cost” is always returned with interest if we let allow it. Whether we interact within the business-to-business side of healthcare or the vast patient-care arena, we can readily see the value of empathy in action. In both cases, employing empathy allows for deeper, more functional, and caring interactions. These aspects, when married together, create progress and care regardless if we are talking about the business of healthcare or the purely human side. Plus, where’s the line in any case?

Especially now, I want to share caution on “Toxic Positivity” and its risks as explained by Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania who specializes in, among other things, anxiety disorders and self-esteem:

Toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset or — my pet peeve term — ‘positive vibes.’

Zuckerman goes on to say:

It’s not only OK to not feel ‘OK,’ it’s essential. We can’t, as human beings, just choose only the emotions we want to have. It simply doesn’t work that way. Feeling all our feelings, painful or not, keeps up grounded in the present moment.

You can read more in “It’s OK not to be OK right now — in fact, it’s normal,” by Simone M. Scully.

Empathy in action, along with our growing emotional intelligence (EQ) that gives us the tools needed to maintain empathy in different situations, is simply the healthy way for us to be a real and dynamic part of healthcare. A great read on EQ and the five categories encompassed is by Michael Akers & Grover Porter in What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

“Your EQ is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them,” says Howard Gardner, the influential Harvard theorist.

Let’s join the collective #hcldr community to examine the value of empathy.

Please join us Tuesday, June 14, 2022, at 8:30 pm ET as we discuss the following topics:

  • T1: How might employing empathy “cost” you anything in relation to the benefits? Examples?
  • T2: How could everyone in healthcare be working toward greater empathy and Emotional Intelligence? Can this be taught?
  • T3: What might be some downsides to (excess) empathy in healthcare? Can “Toxic Positivity” cause harm?
  • T4: What value do you personally place on empathy and Emotional Intelligence? Are these critical for success or not?


‘Toxic Positivity’ Is Real — and It’s a Big Problem During the Pandemic. healthline.com, 22 July 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/toxic-positivity-during-the-pandemic

What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)? Michael Akers & Grover Porter. PsychCentral, 8 Oct 2018. https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-emotional-intelligence-eq/

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