What is the dark side? Or the downside?
In Positive Psychology, there has been much discussion about the upside of the downside. Or about embracing the dark side. Although an extensive amount of scientific research has been conducted on subjects such as happiness, optimism, human strengths, and resilience, Dr. Tim Lomas, co-author of the book Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life, says that the second wave positive psychology does not seek to undermine positive psychology, but seeks to help us recognize that engaging with life’s difficulties or negative emotions can be valuable and useful, and can contribute to overall flourishing.
How can we benefit from the hardships of life or from negative emotions? We can do so, say the authors, by embracing the dark side of life and growing through it. By doing this, we can ultimately yield positive outcomes.
The Jewish equivalent to this idea would be giving a daily accounting, where we think about what has transpired throughout our day, about the positives and negatives, and what we can do to improve ourselves and our character traits. This means acknowledging the existence of our inclination towards certain bad traits and behaviours and thinking about what we can do about them.
King Solomon writes, “Do not be overly righteous nor overly wicked.” (Ecclesiastes 7:16-17) Similarly, the Sages warn: “Be wary of charlatans feigning piety, behaving like Zimri but seeking reward like Pinchas.” (Sotah 22b)
- The Just Measure, Chapter 52
How can we understand our dark side? Human nature inclines us to project our perceived inferiorities onto others. When we dislike another person, they are reflecting an aspect of our own personality that we do not like or have already overcome, says Rita Watson, MPH. Judaism encourages us to confront another person without being confrontational. Doing so will give your higher nature an advantage over your darker side, or in Jewish terms, your good inclination will gain the advantage over your evil inclination.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who take darkness for light and light for darkness.” (Isaiah 5:20)
Clearly, the presence of our evil inclination or dark side has some positive benefits. By acknowledging the existence of our dark side, and taking steps to work with our negative emotions, we are one step closer to achieving growth and flourishing. Our negative emotions can result in positive outcomes. The Ways of the Righteous quotes King Solomon, “And I saw that all labour and excellence of workmanship was one man’s envy of another.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4)
Another beneficial envy in the world is the jealousy of upright Torah scholars. “Jealousy between scholars increases wisdom.” (Bava Basra 21A) When we see another person achieving greatness and are motivated to do the same, we are essentially increasing the amount of wisdom found the world. This is but another upside of the downside. What we perceive as negative can actually be positive and lead to positive outcomes.