The Terror Of Positive Thinking
Please read this through and tell me what you think.
In the past couple decades teaching others to practice optimism has become extremely popular. There is a lot of good that comes from being optimistic. It can give people the energy to solve and overcome problems, whereas pessimism can cause one not to even make the attempt, thus ensuring failure. There are also rare cases when a pessimist may involuntarily self-sabotage out of fear even when they do make the attempt. Even while a problem remains unsolved, an optimist will feel better about the future than a pessimist, making the problem less of a problem. However, I see these days more often than not that optimism is misapplied and only makes situations worse.
It is fine to dream of the great, bright, fantastic future, but if you don’t remove the obstacles in your way you will never get there, and you can’t remove obstacles you won’t acknowledge the existence of.
I find that self-described optimists often refuse to even listen to the potential challenges to their plans. They tell those who bring attention to problems that they are simply being pessimistic. Optimists believe everything they think of is perfect. When they push through their plans without vetting them, they only make things much worse. They don’t worry about it; they just come up with even worse plans to fix the new problems they just caused. This is true in business, churches, and especially in government.
There has to be balance. Optimists see within every failure an even greater success, while pessimists see within every success an even greater failure. They are both right; time goes on and the string of successes and failures never ends. Too often optimists treat their plans as if they will permanently end our problems, while pessimists hold out for a perfect plan that will never come.
Positive thinking only takes one so far. You can choose to ignore your problems for only so long before they will make themselves undeniable. Eventually one has to have a genuine solution.
I once too fell victim to the illusion that my emotions could be controlled. Whenever confronted with an unpleasant stimulus, I quickly told myself that I was too strong to be bothered, that there are always ways to fix problems, and I reminded myself of everything good in my life to take my mind off it. I told myself that things would be better in the future. I was better than anyone I knew at “seeing the silver lining.” As the years passed and my problems remained unsolved, I found that my continual efforts to control my emotions were only serving to remind me of why I needed to control them in the first place. The more times my rosy predictions failed to pan out, the less I found myself believing my next predictions in spite of my best efforts. I simply couldn’t keep up anymore and I was completely worn out. I later learned that the path to healing is first not to deny reality and to allow myself to be upset sometimes. This is only healthy.
One can choose to avoid that which he dislikes, but one can never choose what it is he dislikes. One can never choose to be happy.
Optimists say, “You can’t control every situation, but you can control how you feel about the situation; you are in charge of your feelings.” There is a grain of truth to this. After all, you can pound a rock with a hammer all day long and the rock will never feel a thing. This is because a rock has no nerves. However, if you pound on a puppy with a hammer, the puppy will feel pain. It is not your actions alone that cause the pain, but the combination of your beatings with the way the puppy’s nervous system is designed. In other words, the puppy has only himself to blame. This is exactly how most optimists talk.
One need not be physically beaten to feel pain. Because humans are designed to connect with others, they inevitably feel lonely when they are unable to do this. It is a fundamental need. As often as not, I see positive thinking used as an excuse to bully others. I have known bullies to verbally abuse others only to turn around and blame the victims for their feelings, adding insult to injury.
Complaining is good. Complaining makes others aware of problems so that they can be fixed. Complaining allows us to vent so that we might better endure. Complaining about our common struggle is how people bond. Don’t complain about people complaining.
Obviously there are some who complain too much, keeping the attention on themselves and away from the good news that might lift people up, but in my experience it is those that complain about other people complaining that complain the most by far. There has to be balance. I have met many who are so sensitive to hearing bad news that they hear it when it isn’t even said. It is impossible to have a normal conversation with these people for long before they start angrily lecturing about the dangers of negative thinking and making everyone else feel bad for having legitimate problems that they were already dealing with quite well. There is nobody more negative than a positive thinker.
Sympathy is a basic human need, but when people are attacked and their problems belittled it only makes them feel worse, which will only make them more desperate to get sympathy somewhere else. Sometimes those who seem to complain too much only do so because they were first attacked for only complaining a little bit. After years (or even decades) of abuse, they become very needy people that will not simply get better overnight. They need more help than even they know.
Sometimes people need to vent. When people feel they have been listened to, they are able to be much more patient. This is one of the reasons we have free speech in the United States. If people are prohibited from expressing frustration verbally, eventually it will be expressed physically. This is true in the workplace, family settings, school, and in politics. The only way to prevent the use of “second-amendment solutions” is by the tireless pursuit of first-amendment solutions.
There is nothing more discouraging than yet another word of encouragement when a hardship has persisted for too long.
When someone says, “I can’t do it,” they are rarely being pessimistic of the future; they are usually just expressing their frustration of the present. However, this is all it takes for the optimonsters to strike. So often I see people encouraging/bullying people into being more optimistic and less pessimistic. They act as if they think they are helping. Some people actually thank them for helping. I wonder, though, what if we actually helped to solve the problem? We may not be able to solve everything, but what if we at least listened and gave advice? What if we at least did something nice for someone or told them some good news to help make them feel better while they suffer? Getting after people for expressing themselves doesn’t help.
Points to ponder:
“Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well.,’ but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” – James 2:15-16
We are told if we want something to go out and make it happen, but for those things we want and need the most (love, respect, understanding) there is nothing we can do. Love is by definition that which is freely given. If it could be earned or compelled, it would not be love.
There are some things that one can never achieve, yet the optimists keep pressing us to try. They are incapable of understanding that some things should not be attempted and they never listen. Even of those things that can be earned, it does us no good to earn them if we are continually cheated. You can’t force customers to buy no matter how good your product. You can’t force an employer to hire you no matter how excellent your qualifications. You can’t force your crush to like you back no matter how true your love. Life is already too frustrating to also have to listen to the cheerleaders on the sidelines telling us to go out and make it happen, blaming us for our problems and doing nothing to help. Sometimes there is nothing more to do.
Optimism And Religion:
The optimonsters are even more dangerous when they use religion. In Christian circles, we are told that our prayers will not be answered if we ask with a doubting mind. We are told that God wants to grant us our desires and if he does not it must mean we didn’t have enough faith. In other words, the reason you have trouble is that it is your fault. What do you do if you need more faith? Pray for it, of course – this leading to an insidious feedback loop of despair when one realizes that they doubt whether they will ever have enough faith. What sort of a God who loves us enough to die for our sins would then demand faith from us in order to meet our needs?
Among those with new age tendencies, they speak of the law of attraction, of positive visualization, and of “vibrating on the same frequency” as that which you want to come in to your life. This is nonsense. I don’t blame anybody for falling for this; it takes years of testing and a very open mind to be sure it doesn’t work. I am sure it doesn’t work. The best things ever to happen to me and the worst things ever to happen to me both came as complete surprises; I neither visualized them nor prayed for them. At the same time, those things I have visualized and prayed about for decades have still failed to pass as of this writing. Positive visualization is complete nonsense.
These have been my experiences with the subject. Tell me about yours. Who do you know that uses optimism to cover for their lack of empathy?
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My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.