Barbara Ehrenreich presents a sharp-witted knockdown of America's love affair with positive thinking and an urgent call for a new commitment to realism.
Americans are a "positive" people -- cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: this is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a temperament, being positive, we are told, is the key to success and prosperity.
In this utterly original take on the American frame of mind, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the strange career of our sunny outlook from its origins as a marginal nineteenth-century healing technique to its enshrinement as a dominant, almost mandatory, cultural attitude. Evangelical mega-churches preach the good news that you only have to want something to get it, because God wants to "prosper" you. The medical profession prescribes positive thinking for its presumed health benefits. Academia has made room for new departments of "positive psychology" and the "science of happiness."
Nowhere, though, has bright-siding taken firmer root than within the business community, where, as Ehrenreich shows, the refusal even to consider negative outcomes -- like mortgage defaults -- contributed directly to the current economic crisis.
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed.
A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida.
Great video. Questioning the positive thinking is tricky given depression is so widespread and positive thinking appears at first glance to be a helpful reversing of very negative thinking. The middle ground is often the cold hard reality of peoples lives.
I read a book recently that shows you the connections between your individual life and the wider social/political forces that are at play and how these forces help to make you think that it is your fault when you are unable to pick yourself up, “suck it up”, and get on with life- because depression is nearly always interpreted as an individual condition and a condition which society is blameless (like the sub prime disaster? sic).
The power of this book is that it helps you to question that assumption and helps you to see how other social & political factors play their part. Its written by Pam Stavropoulos -I think from memory she is a politics academic/therapist - the book has only been out a few years and is called "Living Under Liberalism: The Politics of Depression in Western Democracies"
Originally Posted by CHinkley
In response to Jan Steinman's car example, I will agree with Barbara. If my car needed repair the power of positive thinking will not fix it. You need to be proactive not positive - just get it to the shop and get it fixed, I wouldn't want my car to set limitation and dictate where I would live.
I'm not sure you actually read what I wrote.
Except for inflection, the Mandarin word for "crisis" is the same as the word for "opportunity." Look at is as you will. Your choice.
I am currently wrapped up in a crisis, and may lose my home. It is really, really hard to see the opportunity in that, except to post here that there's an opportunity for someone else to invest in their sustainability and security through a partnership: http://tinyurl.com/HalfFarmForSale
Yea, sometimes things just suck. But if you have a choice about looking at things positively or negatively, it sure doesn't cost you anything to take the positive approach, no?
I'm not defending those who fire employees who express things in a negative manner; I'm saying each of us can choose to take the positive view.
Now if I can just convince myself of that in my current situation...
:::: Jan Steinman, Communication Steward, EcoReality ::::
If one enters a 12-step addiction program such as AA, seeking concrete guidance for strategy, management of desires and behavior modification, he will NOT receive it, perhaps to his surprise.
Instead, he will be told to shut up and read pages from the so-called BIG BOOK, containing various religious mantras and admonitions.
Here, essentially, as Ehrenreich is claiming, positive thinking is used as a "shut up"... a tactic for denying real problems and issues people have, including thoroughly legtimate and serious questions they may proffer.
And even though AA is based on mantras and murky thinking, it will be the first thing recommended by proessionals in prisons and MHMR offices throughout Ameerica.
I rather wish Ehrenreich had exposed for of this truth in her current expose'.
In response to Jan Steinman's car example, I will agree with Barbara. If my car needed repair the power of positive thinking will not fix it. You need to be proactive not positive - just get it to the shop and get it fixed, I wouldn't want my car to set limitation and dictate where I would live. In the case of the corporate executive changing phases and calling problems opportunities, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, its likely a duck. Change is just change and doesn't guarrantee improvement. I'm just a down to earth realist, I don't keep my head in the clouds.
In regards to Permalink - I am amazed how quickly it was assummed that people who do not believe in the positive thinking jargon must be negative. There really is a middle ground as there is with everything.
Good commentary on the positive thinking and self help industry. However, most depressed people have thought patterns that distort reality, automatic negative thought loops that have a big impact on mood. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is effective and there is a book Feeling Good by Dr. Burns that teaches people coaping skills and ways to disarm delusional negative thoughts.
I think Ms. Ehrenreich is being a bit harsh on the power of positive thinking.
Don't get me wrong — I'm as down on positive thinking as an alternative to reality as she is — but when it is practised responsibly, it improves your life and that of those around you.
Case: we agree: someone on a cruise attends a $450 seminar on PosThink(TM), and starts plastering photos all over their walls of a new red convertible. Not good.
Case: we agree: the corporate executive who will not tolerate hearing of "problems." Not good.
Case: we disagree: your car just broke and you can't get to work. You could just sit there and call on the Universe to give you a car, or you could trust that you may not know by what form your needs are fulfilled. You choose the latter, and put it out there that you really need to solve your commuting problem. A few days later, a friend mentions that a great apartment, cheaper and better than the one you're in, has just opened up a block from your job.
In this case, it was not new-age spiritualism that solved the problem, it was simply paying attention to your needs, rather than your wants. What you pay attention to, you take action upon.
Case: we disagree: The corporate executive who asks that all their internal communication use the phrase "improvement opportunity" whenever someone would write "problem." The wording change alone causes one to think of improving the situation, and the opportunity to do so. His underlings won't be fired for bringing bad news, but if they've at least been willing to think of it as an "improvement opportunity," I think they're more likely to be bringing the boss a solution, rather than just bad news.
Yea, let's be realistic. Yea, let's avoid false hope. But "hope" is too future-oriented. Set your positive intent, and at every opportunity, act in the direction of that intent right now, and good stuff will happen!
I hate corporate bs, corporate culture, and the demand to always be hypomanic and positive in the workplace.
As far as the financial meltdown, I believe the technical term for it was "irrational exuberance".
A very compelling talk. Positive thinking can be useful as a tactic against being consumed by stress, grief, etc. Such a philosophy would therefore emphasize not the “sunny side” delusional aspects of positive thinking (a myopic debasement of self-perception), but, as the root ‘posit’ suggests, impetus, boldness.
The story of the Lehman Brothers employee showing this trait struck me as at least faintly ironic. Clearly, the man must have been an optimist to approach his bosses with his message knowing the environment they inculcated. When we have made “positive thinking” the enemy of boldness such that it admits no positing, it has defeated its own ends, or become a negative philosophy, and an excuse to frivolity besides.