by Sadie Kaye
Sai Kung resident Sadie Kaye graduated from Cambridge University in 1998 and rapidly became something of an international star. Her comic talent is entirely uninhibited. “My Life Asleep”, Sadie’s article about being picked up by the Sai Kung police sleepwalking, often naked, and taken home, was probably the best piece SAI KUNG BUZZ ran in its first year. Sadie is a TV and radio performer, writer, actress and filmmaker. A bipolar disorder sufferer, she campaigns for better understanding of mental illness. Here she has a rant about the fashionable tendency to dismiss people with the comment, “negative energy”.
Coming to a coffee shop near you…
“Don’t go near her, she’s got negative energy!”
I hear it all the time and each time it bemuses and riles me. Now, I can’t proclaim to be an expert on what “energy” actually means, because I’ve never found anyone who uses the term who’s been able to convincingly explain it to me. At least, not without resorting to “ENERGY!!! You know?” No, I don’t know – and apparently, neither do you. But as far as I’ve been able to fathom, Negative Energy, or its superfluous sister, Good Energy, does not relate to whether a person is engaging in strenuous physical exercise. Nor is it a reference to someone struggling with/ reaping the ‘rewards’ of ADHD. It’s not even related to person being so nervous/ excitable that he/ she can’t sit down, like a ‘normal’ person. (If you think you’re coming down with a severe bout of Normal Person Syndrome, get in touch and I’ll happily recommend my psychiatrist.)
The pompous practice of denouncing someone as having “negative energy” insinuates something far more discriminating and creepily disturbing than that. Since your “energy” insinuates your essence, your spirit, your character and contribution, your lasting impression when you leave a room. Which is fine if you are one of the lucky few deemed to have “good energy”. But if you are proclaimed as having “bad energy”, woe betide and SHAME on you! It implies that your soul is finitely “negative” . Which implies that it’s somehow faulty – your fault, to be exact – lacking, defective, the dud end of a battery, demonically deficient, rotten to the core, and that your BFF is Beelzebub. It would be funny, if it wasn’t so pointlessly cruel.
Now, I am certain that the yoga-loving, hemp seed smoothie-guzzling, usually female populous (admittedly I’m generalizing, but isn’t that exactly what they do?) who label others (rarely themselves, ironically) as having “bad energy” would never dream of loudly gossiping in a coffee shop that so-and-so has a “rotten soul”. Most only use the expression because it has become the latest, idle “buzz” phrase, given credence by any number of dollar-chasing, bullshit book launching, spiritual pop psychologists. They either can’t explain what “bad energy” means, or don’t want to contemplate the implications in any great depth. They might even think describing a fellow being as “bad energy” no more malicious in intent than the hippies’ lovable catchphrase: “bad vibes”. Man (ha!) I would argue that it is profoundly different. Getting “bad vibes” is a personal impression (internal ‘vibes’). Denouncing someone as having “bad energy” is an external condemnation of their spiritual essence (just plain nasty).
The storytellers will have you believe that the driving force of humanity; the cornerstone of civilization is the eternal struggle between good and evil. But aren’t they talking about good and evil in relation to deeds, not anything as flimsily transparent as a person’s questionable “energy”? Personally, I’d like to think humanity has progressed from viewing the world and all its occupants in such simplistic terms. There’s a warped logic to every abominable act, but let’s leave the history-makers out of this. My bone of contention is with the everyday tittle-tattlers, talking with surprising conviction of something they, themselves, profess not to understand.
Any one of us can have negative/ positive views, by another’s estimation. Negative/ positive things can also happen to us, shaping our views. But can a person you don’t know at all well really exude “negative energy”? And is it your place to sweepingly condemn him or her? Because by condemning a fellow being as having “negative energy”, the obvious insinuation is that you, yourselves, are comprised of wholly “positive energy”, whether you regard yourself in such lofty admiration and high esteem, or secretly weep into your pillow at night. Let me apply some of my own “warped” logic, by stating the bleeding obvious…. Maybe the condemned “bad energy” person has a very good reason to be feeling negative? Maybe he/ she’s suffering secret abuse, poverty, bereavement, or any number of devastating life events? Maybe they just don’t like you, or respect the way that you treat others, especially if those you denounce are practically strangers? Or maybe, and most likely of all, they’re suffering from depression? A logical assumption, since depression affects half of the world’s population. I have bipolar disorder, the mood disorder of extreme ups and downs, which means I often have what the energy speculators might describe as a mind-boggling, limitless supply of “good energy.” It’s psychiatric term is “mania”, not “good energy” of course – and it’s certainly not to be encouraged, envied, or aspired to. When the mania builds to a frenzy of “good energy”, I start to feel invincible. Next comes bizarre delusions of grandeur and hallucinating that I’m Jesus. (Useful, hey?) At other times, or at least prior to treatment and medication, I was excessively depressed, suicidal, exuding in abundance what the energy gossips could only describe as “bad energy”. But is that fair?
Let’s take a moment to contemplate the helpfulness – to anybody – of substituting the term “mental illness” with “bad energy”? Would it have helped me? Nope. My friends and family? Nope. The people who were genuinely convinced I was Jesus? Ummm? Probably not, no.
Nope, there’s no possible “positive” (energy) outcome. Instead it’s horribly insulting, misinformed, discriminating, ignorant, narcissistic, even. Mental illness is not a choice. Most mentally ill people don’t want your sympathy, but is it wrong to hope for your compassion, your tolerance, and your patience?
Trite “energy”- related buzzwords just feed the fire of victimization that threatens to implode our world. Should your victim get wind of your unsubstantiated views, it will only exacerbate his/ her condition further. And since statistics show that even the energy gossips have a 50/50 chance of experiencing depression in their lifetimes, you users could come to regret your intolerant views.
Neither is having continual “positive energy” in my mind the same thing as friendship. Unless you are one in ten billion, it just means you are better at putting on an unnecessarily self-sacrificing act. The ludicrous pressure to display continuous (and boringly monotonous) “positive energy” is surely a form of mental illness in itself? I’m certain it’s not what Chopra meant in his books highlighting his path to spiritual enlightenment. In an utopian world, surely we could be relaxed about being feeling sad, angry, happy – most importantly ourselves – in the moment, without fear of being tagged “bad energy” in absurd coffee shop reprisals.
And do you really want to pass on this negative, intolerant, discriminatory nonsense to your kids? What are we raising here? Oh, just judgmental little bigots. Isn’t finding your place in the playground of life tough enough without listening to your parents divide the universe into “good energy” and “bad energy” people? What if your kids are victimized by the “bad energy” bullies? What if they grow up to develop a serious mental health condition, like I did? How will he/ she and you feel about your careless remarks then?
So, for those peddling discrimination, intolerance, prejudice, ignorance and injustice by passing judgement on another being’s soul, or “energy”, I have one question for you. Do you believe in goblins?