The Pollyanna Principle

Dear Christian Radio,

It is a cool, rainy winter afternoon – gray sky, gray mood. My car is in the shop, my computer’s hard drive crashed, my husband goes in for yet another medical procedure this week, and I just learned that a friend from church suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.  Yet tomorrow morning, I will be positive. I will open up a microphone, smile, talk, and play music. I will tell stories that have happy endings, read scripture, share a devotional moment, be cheerful, and remind listeners that they are loved.

How can I be positive when I feel anything but? The term “fake it ’til you make it” comes to mind, and that’s often what we feel like we have to do if we work for a Christian radio station, particularly if we are on the air. This comes across exactly as what it is: saccharine and insincere. Many of us in Christian radio are greatly affected by what I call the “Pollyanna Principle.”

Pollyanna, in case you don’t know, was a lovable orphan who had an overwhelmingly positive attitude toward…well, everything. A character from a 1913 novel popularized by a 1960 Disney film, Pollyanna was so peppy that the name became synonymous with excessive cheerfulness. Dictionary definitions include “an excessively or blindly optimistic person,” and someone who is “unreasonably or illogically optimistic.”  The Pollyannas of the world are typically the ones who get on our nerves when we’re having a bad day. They are the perky people who want to talk to us before our first cup of coffee and always find the silver lining in every cloud. We automatically think There’s NO way they can be that happy! Christians are often seen as Pollyannas as our pat answer to every problem is “You need Jesus.” We know that the only answer to a sick and hurting world is Jesus Christ. However, saying to others “You just need Jesus” does not solve their problems. We have to be raw. We have to be real. We don’t fake it; we don’t smile and simply say that everything is going to be OK, because sometimes it just isn’t.  And while it may be true that misery loves company, how are we to go on-air (or online and in person) and be positive without being a Pollyanna?

Our team at Positive Alternative Radio recently researched what prompted listeners to call. It was not statistics or a story that prompted the most calls for prayer or donations. Overwhelmingly, listeners responded when the on-air host was vulnerable. This is how we embody how to “Be Positive.” Sharing our pain, our doubts and our questions reminds our listeners (and everyone around us) that they are not alone in their struggles. Whether it is the day-to-day frustrations or the serious issues of life, they want and need to know that they are not the only ones. We have to share from our own lives and experiences what Christ has done for us—and when we dwell on that, we’re not pretending, we’re praising.

Dear Christian Radio…

     1. Be vulnerable. Share your struggle.
     2. Praise, don’t pretend.
     3. Be positive, but don’t be a Pollyanna.

Struggling, but still smiling –

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