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Posts : 71
Join date : 2009-05-11

PostSubject: Bright-Sided   Thu 29 Oct 2009, 1:53 pm

What has changed, in the last few years, is that the advice to at least act in a positive way has taken on a harsher edge. The penalty for nonconformity is going up, from the possibility of job loss and failure to social shunning and complete isolation. In his 2005 best seller, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, T. Harv Eker, found of "Peak Potentials Training," advices that negative people have to go, even, presumably, the ones that you live with: "Identify a situation or a person who is a downer in your life. Remove yourself from that situation or association. If it's family, choose to be around them less." In fact, this advice has become a staple of the self help literature, of both the secular and Christian varieties. "GET RID OF NEGATIVE PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE." writes motivational speaker and coach Jeffrey Gitomer. "They waste your time and bring you down. If you can't get rid of them (like a spouse or a boss), reduce your time with them." And if that isn't clear enough, J. P. Maroney, a motivational speaker who styles himself "the Pitbull of Business," announces:

<blockquote>Negative People SUCK!
That may sound harsh, but the fact is that negative people do suck. They suck the energy out of positive people like you and me. They suck the energy and life out of a good company, a good team, a good relationship... Avoid them at all cost. If you have to cut ties with people you've known for a long time because they're actually a negative drain on you, then so be it. Trust me, you're better off without them.</blockquote>

What would it mean in practice to eliminate all the "negative people" from one's life? It might be a good move to separate from a chronically carping spouse, but it is not so easy to abandon the whiny toddler, the colicky infant, or the sullen teenager. And at the workplace, while it's probably advisable to detect and terminate those who show signs of becoming mass killers, there are other annoyin people who might actually have something useful to say: the financial officer who keeps worrying about the bank's subprime mortgage exposure or the auto excutive who questions the company's overinvestment in SUVs and trucks. Purge everyone who "brings you down," and you risk being very lonely or, what is worse, cut off from reality. The challenege of family life, or group life of any kind, is to keep gauging the moods of others, accomodating to their insights, and offering comfort when needed.

But in the world of positive thinking other people are not there to be nurtured or to provide unwelcome reality checks. They are there only to nourish, praise, and affirm. Harsh as this dictum sounds, many ordinary people adopt it as their creed, displaying wall plaques or bumper stickers showing the word "Whining" with a cancel sign through it. There seems to be a massive empathy deficit, which people respond to be withdrawing their own. No one has the time of patience for anyone else's problems.

In mid-2006, a Kansas City pastor put the growing ban on "negativity" into practice, announcing that his church would now be "complaint free." Also, there would be no criticising, gossiping, or sarcasm. To reprogram the congregation, the Reverend Will Bowen distributed purple silicone bracelets that were to be worn as reminders. The goal? Twenty-one complaint-free days, after which the complaining habit would presumably be broken. If the wearer broke down and complained about something, then the bracelet was to be transferred to the other wrist. This bold attack on negativity brought Bowen a spread in People magazine and a spot on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Within a few months, his church had given out 4.5 million purple bracelets to people in over eighty countries. He envisions a complaint-free world and boasts that his bracelets have been distributed within schools, prisons, and homeless shelters. There is no word yet on how successful they have been in the latter two settings.

So the claim that acting in a positive way leads to success becomes self-fulfilling, at least in the negative sense that not doing so can lead to more profound forms of failure, such as rejection by employers or even one's fellow worshipers. When the gurus advise dropping "negative" people, they are also issuing a warning: smile and be agreeable, go with the flow--or prepare to be ostracized.

It is not enough, though, to cull the negative people from one's immediate circle of contacts; information about the larger human world must be carefully censored. All the world must be carefully censored. All the motivators and gurus of positivity agree that it is a mistake to read newspapers or watch the news....

...This retreat from the real drama and tragedy of human events is suggestive of a deep helplessness at the core of positive thinking. Why not follow the news? Because, as my informant at the NSA meeting told me, "You can't do anything about it." Braley similary dismisses reports of disasters: "That's negative news that can cause you emotional sadness, but that you can't do anything about." The possibilities of contributing to relief funds, joining an antiwar movement, or lobbying for more humane government policies are not even considered. But at the very least there seems to be an acknowledgement here that no amount of attitude adjustment can make good news out of headlines beginning with "Civilian casualties mount..." or "Famine spreads..."

Of course, if the powers of the mind truly "infinite," one wholdnot have to eliminate negative people from one's life either; one could, for example, simply choose to interpret their behavior in a positive way--maybe he's critizing me for my own good, maybe she's being sullen because she likes me so much and I haven't been attentive, and so on. The advice that you must change your environment--for example, by eliminating negative people and news--is an admission that there may in fact be a "real world" out there that is utterly unaffected by our wishes. In the face of this terrifying possibility, the only "positive" response is to withdraw into one's own carefully constructed world of constant approval and affirmation, nice news and smiling people.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided. pg 55.

Not only does this absurd positivity have negative results. The need to do it in the first place strongly suggests that at heart the practitioner has an incredibly negative outlook on the world. It suggests they don't believe problems can be solved and it's best to just pretend like none are present. Just smile and ignore all problems and ignore anyone who isn't doing the same, as what else could possibly be done? Making long term changes are hopeless. Just pretend everything is already fine.

This is a subject I've thought about a lot. Very good topic by Ehrenreich. I also liked Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch by her.
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PostSubject: Re: Bright-Sided   Sun 01 Nov 2009, 8:45 pm

Think of it as a massive experiment in mind control. "Reality sucks," a computer scientist with a master's degree who can find only short-term, benefit-free contract jobs told me. But you can't change reality, at least not in any easy and obvious way. You could join a social movement working to create an adequate safety net or to bring about more humane corporate policies, but those efforts might take a lifetime. For now, you can only change your perception of reality, from negative and bitter to positive and accepting. This was the corporate world's great gift to it's laid-ff employees and the overworked survivors--positive thinking.

Companies brought in motivational speakers for an ever growing number of corporate meetings. Whatever else goes on at these meetings--the presentation of awards, the introduction of new executives--the "entertainment" is usually provided by motivational speakers. As Vicki Sullivan, who follows the market for such speakers, said, corporations are the "sugar daddies" of the motivational speaking industry. "At some point," she told me in an interview, employers realized it was not enough to expose people to familar positive-thinking nostrums like "Don't read newspapers or talk to negative people." Instead she said, "What they've learned is that you have to go beyond that, as change happens faster and faster. You have to use motivational speakers to help people hang in there."

...The burgeoning genre of business self-help books provided another way to get white-collar workers to adapt to downsizing. Of these, the classic of downsizing propaganda was Who Moved My Cheese?, which has sold ten million copies, in no small part due to companies that bought it in bulk for their employees. Perhaps in recognition of the fact that it would fall into the hands of many reluctant readers, it's a tiny volume, only ninety-four pages of large print, offering the kind of fable appropriate to a children's book. Two little maze-dwelling, cheese-eating people named Hem and Haw--for the human tendency to think and reflect--arrive at their "Cheese Station" one day to find that the cheese is gone. The "Littlepeople" waste time ranting and raving "at the injustice of it all," as the book's title suggests. But there are also two mice in the maze, who scurry off without hesitation to locate an alternative cheese source, because, being rodents, they "kept life simple. They didn't overanalyze or overcomplicate things."

Finally the little humans learn from the mice that they may have to adapt to a new cheese. Haw uses what amounts to the law of attraction to find it: he starts to "paint a picture in his mind... in great realistic detail, [of himself] sitting in the middle of a pile of all his favorite cheeses--from Cheddar to Brie!" Instead of resenting the loss of his old cheese, he realizes, more positively, that "change could lead to something better" and is soon snacking on a "delicious" new cheese. Lesson for victims of layoffs: the dangerous human tendencies to "overanalyze" and complian must be overcome for a more rodentlike approach to life. When you lose a job, just shut up and scamper along to the next one.

...By and large, America's white-collar corporate workforce drank the Kool-aid, as the expression goes, and accepted positive thinking as a substitute for their former affluence and security. They did not take to the streets, shift their political allegiance in large numbers, or show up at work with automatic weapons in hand. As one laid-off executive told me with quiet pride, "I've gotten over my negative feelings, which were so dysfunctional." Positive thinking promised them a sense of control in a world where the "cheese" was always moving. They may have had less and less power to chart their own futures, but they had been given a worldview--a belief system, almost a religion--that claimed they were in fact infinitely powerful, if only they could master their own minds.

Bright-Sided, Ehrenreich. pg 116
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