On Optimism…(and positive thinking)

More on the “cult of positivity” and it’s problems.

No one should be told by another human being that their suffering is a gift. If someone comes to that conclusion on their own that is fine, but it’s insulting and invalidating to be told your suffering is a gift when it’s devastating your life. Our culture tells us everyday that we should never feel angry or pained when something bad happens. We are also blamed and held responsible for illness. I’ve written about this here in terms of how “karma” is often understood.

When I published the piece on karma a friend sent me an article with an interview with Ken Wilber on this topic as well. He talks about the fallacy that positive thinking will heal all, while acknowledging that in some instance it can help people, it’s by no means a sure deal. The problem here is that perfectly positive people can and will still die of all sorts of stuff. It’s excellent and you can read it here. WE ALL DIE. So ultimately this idea that being positive can save all is simply and completely delusional.

The opposite is true in my mind. When we accept our feelings — good and bad — as being profoundly healing even if we end up dying…because, again, yup, we all do die.

I don’t necessarily agree 100% with Ehrenreich but I think she adds very important balance to a dialog because I sure as heck have faced the dark side of what she talks about here. It’s very real.

(You might also take note that Ken Wilber and Barbara Ehrenreich might be considered opposites in some regards. The fact is I find much of what they both say helpful while not necessarily agreeing completely with either. I was a religious studies major and found the whole spectrum of human spirituality fascinating. That included and still includes atheism.)

US author, social commentator and activist, Barbara Ehrenreich, likes to tell it as it is. In this secular sermon she calls for a new commitment to realism. Far from making us happier, she argues that undue optimism and a fear of giving bad news sowed the seeds for the banking crisis – and that an insistence on being cheerful actually leads toward a lonely focus inwards and to political apathy.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of fourteen best-selling books. Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled American and the World. She lives in Virginia, USA

This secular sermon took place at Conway Hall, London on 10 January 2010.

I’ve shared work by Barbara Ehrenreich here before. I’ll just cut and paste and repost here since it’s brief.

brightFrom Democracy Now:
Author Barbara Ehrenreich on “Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America

In her new book, author Barbara Ehrenreich documents what she says is the destructive power of the positive thinking movement in the United States, from breast cancer to the workplace, to the economy, to politics as a whole. Ehrenreich opens the book by writing about her own experience with breast cancer culture after being diagnosed with the disease in 2000. She says in the prevailing positive thinking culture of America, breast cancer patients are urged to avoid feeling angry and instead find meaning and even uplift in the disease. She writes, “In the most extreme characterization, breast cancer is not a problem at all, not even an annoyance—it is a ‘gift,’ deserving of the most heartfelt gratitude.”

You can listen to an interview with Barbara or read the transcript of the interview here.

All of this has so much to do with how people get the crap drugged out of them in psychiatry too instead of allowing for pain and anger and whatever other negative emotions need to be dealt with so we might get through our issues naturally.

Ultimately we all deal with pain and illness and difficult emotions differently and that is essential to understand.

**note: I actually like the Life is good t-shirts! (from the video) Still I greatly appreciated the guys response wearing one that says “Life is Crap.” Because the bottom line is life is all about the paradox. Life is good and it’s also crap. Hell yeah. Good stuff happens and shit happens too.

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