Monday marks the 15th annual Positive People Day, a Boston tradition that encourages people to “commit to kindness.” The holiday began as an effort to curb violence by the organization Victory Over Violence. The group’s founders, W. Watts Biggers (co-creator of the “Underdog” cartoon) and Nancy Purbeck, suggest that taking a few minutes out of your day to do a small positive act — a hug, a smile, or a “thank you” — will help that effort by creating a less hostile atmosphere. Volunteers throughout the city pass out cards featuring pictures of Underdog and positive messages. Because this year’s Positive People Day falls near the end of a particularly divisive and contentious election season, we asked Purbeck, who splits her time between Boston and Manomet, about the negativity caused by politics.
Q. You’ve been doing this for 15 years. Do you think the elections this year have caused more negativity than usual?
A. We’re surrounded by so much negativity, which leads people to anger and volatility and stress. People are turning off televisions because they can’t deal with any more of the ads. [Positive People Day] is a wake-up call to focus on the positive side of things when we have all this negativity — for many reasons, not just the elections. That’s coupled with things on the news about violence, the economy, and the stress that goes with dealing with financial burden. That’s a norm. This election year has heightened so much of the negativity.
Q. Why do you think an election does that to people?
A. We all care about what’s going to happen; we’re all terribly concerned, and that’s what triggers that stress. Wonderful people who want the best for their country and families, these people are deeply concerned. Being negative often just means people are engrossed in solving a problem.
Q. You say negativity stems from problem-solving. In an election, the “problem” would be someone you disagree with might get elected. How do you handle that without being negative?
A. I really can’t solve that problem other than to say, if you can focus on whatever good you want to share, then stick with that. Don’t look for the bad in someone else.
Q. Campaigns keep going the negative route, so they must find it to be effective. Why should they stop?
A. I would say that I don’t think that negativity helps, I just think that it breeds more negativity. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be honest or state your truth. . . . Positive communication isn’t just telling the good news. Sometimes it’s the hard stuff. There are different ways to do that. I just believe from over many, many years, focusing on more of the positive has a much better outcome, but that is not ever to deny the truth or the facts. You can be civil. There was an event [the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner on Oct. 18] that had the two candidates playfully talking back and forth. . . . There was a lot of comedy involved. You’re hearing two very bright men, and they used humor instead of daggers or knives. It was much more positive way to hear them communicate.
Q. What do you recommend people do on Positive People Day?
A. The most important thing, wherever you are, whether it’s your home or your office, just say to someone that it’s Positive People Day, and create your own positive situation. It’s doing something as simple as acknowledging a day — and it breaks my heart that it’s just one day. I’m thinking about changing that.
Doerfler can be reached at