If you’ve ever been irked by the relentless, and quite often baseless, positive-thinking that infects so many Americans (and who hasn’t been so irked?), you’ll like what Barbara Ehrenreich has to say about its links to the current economic meltdown facing this country:
As promoted by Oprah Winfrey, scores of megachurch pastors and an endless flow of self-help best sellers, the idea is to firmly believe that you will get what you want, not only because it will make you feel better to do so, but because “visualizing” something — ardently and with concentration — actually makes it happen. You will be able to pay that adjustable-rate mortgage or, at the other end of the transaction, turn thousands of bad mortgages into giga-profits if only you believe that you can.
Positive thinking is endemic to American culture — from weight loss programs to cancer support groups — and in the last two decades it has put down deep roots in the corporate world as well. Everyone knows that you won’t get a job paying more than $15 an hour unless you’re a “positive person,” and no one becomes a chief executive by issuing warnings of possible disaster.
The tomes in airport bookstores’ business sections warn against “negativity” and advise the reader to be at all times upbeat, optimistic, brimming with confidence. It’s a message companies relentlessly reinforced — treating their white-collar employees to manic motivational speakers and revival-like motivational events, while sending the top guys off to exotic locales to get pumped by the likes of Tony Robbins and other success gurus. Those who failed to get with the program would be subjected to personal “coaching” or shown the door.
The once-sober finance industry was not immune. On their Web sites, motivational speakers proudly list companies like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch among their clients. What’s more, for those at the very top of the corporate hierarchy, all this positive thinking must not have seemed delusional at all. With the rise in executive compensation, bosses could have almost anything they wanted, just by expressing the desire. No one was psychologically prepared for hard times when they hit, because, according to the tenets of positive thinking, even to think of trouble is to bring it on.
Read the rest of her plea to return to a sense of realism rather than oscillating between Oprah-Secret positivism or the Calvinist-guilt ridden negativism that drove this country in the past. I wonder if “reconciliation ecology”, esp. the idea that humans can make room for other species in our habitats, is also afflicted somewhat with this American cultural malady. Some people think so, but I’d like to think we’re aiming for that realistic middle ground – and daresay we need to given how easy it is to be sucked into negative-thinking in the conservation arena. But then, those positive-thinkers and their corporate clients go ahead and cheerfully drive the economic bus straight off the cliff… and I dread to think how many notches the “environment” has slipped down people’s priority list in these hard times!
But, if you still want to chuckle at the positive-thinking Americans, check out the latest Coen brothers satire “Burn After Reading” for an excellent caricature (played by none other than Brad Pitt)…