There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking. ~ Alfred Korbzybski
Today I’m going to get up, and I’m going to face the day with no worries. No matter what comes my way, I’ll overcome it, because I believe I can! There isn’t anything that can stop me. Through the powers of positive thinking, I will ultimately be successful, because a positive attitude is the most important part of anything you can do.
Typing that was almost impossible. My fingers kept trying to pull away from the keys in disgust. For you see, I am a cynic. I know the picture that people get in their minds. Oh, great, a cynic. Some doubting Thomas hunched over his keyboard with a frown on his face, a scowl on his mouth… and probably a unibrow.
The world hates cynicism. This is mantra that is spouted over and over. Books are sold on the topic. Motivational speakers have it as their raison d’être. Think Positive! Get rid of that stinkin’ thinkin’! And as a gullible populace, do we ever swallow it like the finest of wines. One of the most popular speakers that use this principle is Tony Power. He of the silk suits and permanent grins, who lead his faithful to 3rd degree burns while fire walking using good vibes for protection. The most popular book on the subject in the last decade is “The Secret.” The secret apparently is that you can affect your circumstances with a Vulcan mind meld to the universe, and get whatever you want. It’s fortunate for all of you reading this that this isn’t a direct review of either Power or “The Secret” otherwise the rest of this post would be so expletive laden that it would be all but unreadable.
You know the shtick, though. Little Timmy is on the baseball team. Coach tells him to visualize him hitting the ball out of the park, and it will happen! The only thing standing between you and success is yourself, and your negative attitude. And sadly enough, we have anecdotal examples all over the Internet like bad chain letters, talking about how because they believed something good could happen, it would. An underdog sports team wins, and the reason they accomplished it was because they always believed they could. The reason that Grandma is in remission from cancer is because of her positive energy and will to defeat it. Every once in a while, Timmy belts a homer.
And for every success story, for every example of us using the wonderful power of our minds to achieve greatness, there is a trash-heap of broken dreams and failures. People who were so gosh darn positive that their cheeks hurt from smiling, and still it didn’t work. Didn’t get the promotion, lost the sale, sat in the doctors office and got the bad news, another round of treatment is needed. Timmy hits in to a series ending double play.
All of this stems from us treating negativity as a character flaw. That cynicism is a bad thing. We start the criticism of it early. We tell our kids that they can be anything they want to when they grow up. This of course, is one of those happy little lies we tell our kids, with about as much truth to it as Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. (With hearty apologies for letting the cat out of the bag for those who still believe in old Saint Nick.) What our children can be depends on a gigantic cauldron of factors, many of which they have no control over. The little boy with very poor vision isn’t going to be fighter pilot. The tiny girl who will top out at 4’11” and 95 pounds isn’t going to be a firefighter like daddy is. The odds of the impoverished family being able to afford the Ivy League education required to make their child a doctor are low, and get even lower when the child isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. We read them the little engine that could for a bedtime story, but don’t tell them that the fact of the matter: That more often than not, “I think I can” becomes “I thought I could.” We are unable to accept that we cannot accomplish everything we set out to do, and believe that every story should have a happy ending. Thank you Disney!
Fact of the matter is, a healthy dose of cynicism is beneficial to living your life. Properly applied cynicism is not pessimism. Pessimism is never thinking that there can be a good outcome to anything you try. The only thing Pessimism is good for is jokes about glasses being half empty. Realism, a shorter way of saying healthy cynicism, is simply not going in to things with your eyes closed to the possibility of a negative outcome. Add to this the fact that positive outcomes are rarely, if ever, because of positive attitude. This doesn’t mean there should be no confidence in abilities, or belief that you can succeed, but remembering that the other things that make up for a good result are just as, if not more important. Things such as situation, training, ability, preparedness, and sometimes downright good fortune, do more to give people outcomes that are beneficial.
I work in a middle management position. And I can say without a shadow of a doubt, if I approached my job with the attitude that everything is going to be wonderful just because I think it will, I would not remain employed for very long. I would grin like an idiot and reassure my employers that everything is going to be just fine, while the department crashes and burns. So many jobs, such as my own, or the aforementioned doctor and firefighter MUST be able to weigh situations with the appropriate level of cynicism. They need to make intelligent, informed decisions based on the evidence at hand, not on some euphoric miasma of happy thoughts. In the case of my job, a few dollars (and my job) could be lost. In other examples, peoples life are at stake. It is the people who are cynical and negative that are better prepared to face the harsh realities of life: That the universe doesn’t really care that much if you succeed. Bad stuff happens. It happens a lot. And only a very few individuals win more than they lose, and succeed more than they fail. It is the “Negative Nancies” that view situations with possible bad outcomes, and are able to avoid them because they prepare for the eventuality.
Does this mean that you should think that everything will go bad? No, of course not. What this means is that you should have a sane estimation of your abilities when undertaking a task. If it’s out of your reach, don’t cross your fingers and give yourself a pep talk, do what you need to do to get it within reach. You should measure the probable outcome of events, and figure out what can go wrong first. We all do this anyways. We pack an umbrella just in case it rains. We have a spare tire in our car. Take that principle and apply it to everything you do. When the failures come, (and they will) you will have been prepared to handle it all along.
And for God’s sake, someone tell Timmy to practice if he wants to hit a home run.