positive attention | negative attention


A positive difference that makes a difference.

If love is letting the other be an other in your presence, in close contact, in some ongoing way, hard won, slowly emerging and re-emerging, then love is going to be specific and open: specific to all that’s going on, without marginalising, and open to all that could come of this, without censoring. Otherwise, the other will be othered—pushed away, through the cultivation of vagueness and aloofness. Or else the other will be smothered—held onto too tight, through the cultivation of closedness and inflexibility. 

How to cultivate the specificity and openness that is not un-interested nor un-moving?

What if the only way to do this would be to treat the people, places and props of your existence, including yourself, in the spirit of positive difference? Being a positive difference in people’s lives might actually and simply mean caring for what’s around you in terms of their positive difference. Positive difference means that things are different, with different intensities, directions, urgencies and so forth—that is to say, existence is immense differentiation, and you’re a part of this. The difference is positively before us right now. As it is. That means, this difference is not judged in terms of some standards or ideals elsewhere—that would be to treat things as a negative difference: things are different to that ideal over there (an ideal of what-humans-should-become or what-humans-should-return-to; the future and past imagined as a better place, and the present only a pale degradation or partial graduation). Treating things with negative difference simply cannot deal with the specificities of what is before us, because it is always comparing things to, and worrying about, something else somewhere else that is always an averaging or caricature or blatant papering over all the topsy turvy, itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, nitty gritty, icky sticky, sloppy floppy contingencies of what is already right here happening now. It ignores this stuff, and treats it as marginal, not relevant or not allowed.

To be with positive difference (that only way to make a positive difference), we need to be specific and open. That takes observation, fine tuned opening up of your body to the variegation of existence, procedures of holding on to this in some contingent, generative and involved way. Sciencing, arting, designing, engineering, thinking, governing can be this, if we want to, if we work slow and hard on it (for sure, these caring vocations could also be horribly replete with negative difference). Parenting and childing could be this positive differencing too.


Yesterday, one of the boys was given a texta and some paper, whilst he was standing on a chair at the kitchen table, his waist leaning on the table’s edge and he with both arms and torso and head to move about. Some mark making ensued. But so did many other things, including some sound making. Early on in this situation, he takes the texta, which I had given to him so the felt tip faced downwards to the paper, and he immediately reversed it, and begun tapping the other end of the texta on the paper. Now, what were we to do?

The chance for some negative difference arises here because of my projection of what-one-should-do-with-textas-and-paper-I-just-gave-you. That is, I could keep on imaging that drawing-should-be-taking-place and so I can treat this moment of texta reversal as not-drawing and not-completing-the-task and also the child now is showing-signs-of-lack-of-competence since clearly they don’t comprehend what-a-texta-is-for and maybe now I should be worrying about their-long-term-development. All this could lead us to intervene quite directly, telling the child to switch the texta around, or even grabbing them and doing it ourselves. Oh God.

But there is a chance for some positive difference—meaning, a chance to be in touch with the positive difference that is always already flowing around us. The tapping is a sounding out, a percussing of plastic rod on thin paper and slightly thicker wooden surface of table.

But now there is another chance for some more negative difference. Replace drawing with music making as the dominant program and suddenly I could be worrying about whether-he-is-tapping-in-time-or-not and whether he shows some-musical-talent and should-we-be-nurturing-this and so on and so forth. Stop now please!

Then one of us says: if you want to make marks, you’d need to use the other side (not strictly correct, since if you push hard enough or in certain ways the butt end of a texta will leave subtle embossings and glossing in paper, but point taken) but you can also make some sounds with this end (not forgetting, you also make sounds when you mark the paper). Simpler and less problematic might have been: yes, it makes sounds as well as marks!

This is probably hardly for the benefit of this child, who could well have worked this out already and was having fun tapping, then marking, then more tapping, as well as other things we may not have yet noticed. Instead, saying what was said was for the benefit of the others around the table. To make it okay that whatever is happening is happening, and to take it for what it is rather than what it isn’t. To stop anyone else jumping in and insisting-on-one-thing-over-an-other or joking-but-in-way-that-demeans-that-child-is-doing-something-else. Holding back negative difference is sometimes an important secondary measure to holding onto positive difference.

All this happens in around 10 seconds, but it’s enough time to be in love together. To love the other. Or not.