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On my soapbox: The myth of positive thinking

A family tree.

I do not write this in a spirit of sourness or personal disappointment of any kind, nor do I have any romantic attachment to suffering as a source of insight or virtue. On the contrary, I would like to see more smiles, more laughter, more hugs, more happiness and, better yet, joy. In my own vision of utopia, there is not only more comfort, and security for everyone — better jobs, health care, and so forth — there are also more parties, festivities, and opportunities for dancing in the streets. Once our basic material needs are met — in my utopia, anyway — life becomes a perpetual celebration in which everyone has a talent to contribute. But we cannot levitate ourselves into that blessed condition by wishing it. We need to brace ourselves for a struggle against terrifying obstacles, both of our own making and imposed by the natural world. And the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking.

~ Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided:  How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America

Reflections on an autumn day.

A quick note:  If you’re here only for Walktober, you might want to skip this post.  Or just look at the pretty pictures and forget about reading it.  There is a reminder about Walktober at the bottom, if you’re looking for that.

Like many of us, I’ve been spending some of the time we’ve been granted during state-imposed or self-imposed isolation reading, thinking, and trying to figure out how we got to where we are today.  A lot of people who are more intelligent than I am, writers and thinkers and experts of all kinds, have obviously been pondering this question, too.  It’s hard to keep up with it all, and I have days when I feel like it’s important to speed my way through this process.  There are many, many books out there trying to explain why people voted for the Mad Don (aka the squatter in the White House).  I suspect all the research in the world will still come up with a mystery in the middle when it comes to why the people who think of themselves as Christian or righteous or good or hardworking, would vote for a con, a thief, a rapist, a bully.  I know one thing for certain:  I have no answers.

Solitary.

There are questions arising, too, about the mythology we were told was history, the things we were taught in school versus history as we are now learning it.  Having long known that history is written by the victors, so to speak, it’s not surprising that the history of the U.S. was so white-washed as to barely resemble what really happened.  As I relearn, there has been much food for thought especially when it comes to what I think of as our foundation and what this country was really built upon.  I don’t know how you heal that.  I only know that we need to.

Once upon a time.

What has surprised me most is finding that there are those who I would have thought of as on the left are now converging with those on the right.  New Age folks, the wellness industry, and some yoga thinking is starting to parallel with, if not outright join, the conspiracy thinking of the anonymous variety I don’t want to name (because I don’t want to feed the algorithm).  I don’t know why I find it surprising.  If I had been paying attention, I would have seen the commonalities regarding trust (or distrust, as the case happens to be), positive thinking, and some of the ideas about body sovereignty.

When there was color.

I will not be delving too far into the positive thinking aspects other than to say that I see very little difference between the ideas of, say, the Law of Attraction and the Prosperity Gospel that the evangelicals preach (the same evangelicals who lay hands on the Mad Don and offer him their blessings and support).  Both regard the poor and/or the sick as being responsible for their own lack of funds and health, mostly due to not thinking/praying enough, not being pure enough, or not being on a high enough vibrational plane (whatever that is) when the blame should be on the systems that are in place to keep people poor and unhealthy.  It takes a goodly amount of privilege to be spending time working on raising your vibration, privilege that not everyone has.  I’m not saying it doesn’t help to have a positive attitude.  Of course it does.  What I am trying to say is that this is, in some regards, victim blaming and, perhaps, another way to keep people poor and unhealthy.

And the light danced.

Body sovereignty started out looking like a good idea.  Your body is your body.  You have all the say in how your body is treated, by you or anyone else.  Great.  I like that.  But what has soured it (beyond the political — I’m not getting into that today) is that the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers have grabbed hold of the idea and started running with it.  They insist that they know what is best for their own bodies while at the same time following the words and advice of those who tell them that wearing a mask is unhealthy and that vaccines make you or your children sick.  What they fail to recognize is that our bodies are not as independent as we like to think they are.  The good health of the individual depends on the good health of the group.  If there is a virus going around, and there is a safe vaccine (or safety protocol — such as wearing a mask and distancing) in place, then it behooves those who can safely do so to get the vaccine (or wear the mask), thereby helping those who are unable to get it for health reasons.  We are not just protecting ourselves.  We are protecting others.

Another time and place.

A note on vaccines:  As long as certain people are politicizing the early release of a vaccine, it is going to be difficult to trust that it will be safe.  I will be paying attention to the science and the scientists.  Science is by no means perfect, but good scientists take time to be thorough and admit when they are wrong.  It’s about testing and proving, and going back to the drawing board when it doesn’t work as you thought it would.

Autumn skies.

I don’t know where we’re headed with the conspiracy theories.  Some say that it will become a new American religion.  I hope not.  Some say that the reason people are falling for such ridiculous nonsense is fear.  A realization that what they thought was true is not true, but they want to hold on to it anyway because they fear the change that acknowledging the truth will bring.  Others say it is also grief.  When the towers in New York City fell on 9/11, we somehow came together for a while.  I think it was because we took the time to grieve.  We had moments of silence.  We had ceremony around it.  Where are the moments of silence for the 219,000+ who have died in the U.S. alone?  Where are the moments of silence for the 1,119,000+ who have died worldwide?  Where are the ceremonies?  Where are the celebrations for those who have survived?  40.5 million cases have been reported, worldwide.

Deepening.

I know that is hard to wrap our heads around such big numbers.  I know, too, that there are still many who feel untouched by the virus other than as an inconvenience that requires them to wear a mask or eat at home instead of in crowded restaurants.  But we need to somehow get in touch with the numbers because that is where our humanity lies — within the lives of the people who have suffered and/or died because of the virus.  There is more suffering to come.  Hiding behind love-and-light thinking or conspiracy theories is not going to help us work through what we need to work through, perhaps must work through.

Gathering.

We can’t come together in a large group to ritualize this in some way, to cry together, to console each other.  But we can set aside a moment in the day for silence, to mourn those who have been lost, to think about those who are sick and those who have lost their jobs or their homes, to feel our own suffering as well as that of others.  We can join together in that way, in spirit if not in person.  Take a moment at sunrise or sunset or at noon or at whatever time of day suits you.  Make it a ritual of acknowledgment.  You don’t need anything other than yourself to do it, but you could invite others who might be in your bubble to join with you in sitting as you watch the sun come up or go down, invite them to be with you in acknowledging and grieving.

Laboring and resting.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading, thank you for visiting.  It’s another cloudy day here on the Eastern Shore.  I don’t know if we’ll see the sunset or not.  It’s scheduled for 6:18 PM.  I’ll meet you out at the Point, and we’ll see what we can see.  It’s warm, but you might need or want a light jacket.

Please be safe, be well, and be kind.  If you’re in the U.S. and you haven’t already, please VOTE.  If you have voted, thank you.

A golden glow.

A few of the 10,000 reasons to be happy:  1,581)  Autumn light and autumn colors.  1,582)  Possibilities.  There are always possibilities and choices and other paths we can follow.  1,583)  Awakening to this day.  1,584)  The good leaders, the good teachers, and all of those who take the time to be grounded in what we think of as reality.  1,585)  The lessons of autumn.

Walktober reminder with update:  The dates are October 3-24 (I’m giving you an extra week).  Take a walk (run, ride, whatever) and post about it sometime during those dates.  I will gather it all together and do the round-up post sometime after that (I’m looking at October 26th as a possible date — it depends on whether or not anyone needs more time).  The official post is HERE.  Leave your link or pingback there.  If you should mistakenly leave it elsewhere on my blog, no worries.  I can usually find it.  However, it does make it easier for me if the links are all in one place.  Thank you!

Author:

Robin is a photographer, artist, writer, wife, sometime poet, mom, grandma, daughter, sister, friend, and occasional traveler currently living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She finished a 365 commitment to get outside every day in 2011, and has turned it into a lifelong commitment taking one or more walks each day. Robin will continue to share her walks through her words and images on Breezes at Dawn. Older posts can be found at Life in the Bogs, her previous blog. Robin and her husband are in the midst of renovating the house and property they refer to as the Wabi-Sabi Ranch, 35 acres that include marsh, a dock on a tidal creek, meadows, and woodlands. Every day brings new discoveries.

26 thoughts on “On my soapbox: The myth of positive thinking

  1. I gave up trying to understand politics long ago, Robin, and the circus atmosphere that prevails these days brings me nothing but distress. But I can say that I wholely sympathise and agree with your point of view.
    As for Walktober, somehow I intend to join you every year, and then it slips away… but I wish you well. 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh! I love that you wrote about the Myth of positive thinking. I have had so many issues with positive thinking over the years, and have gotten in trouble attempting to describe this multiple times. What’s new for me has been discovering what the heart knows when doing affirmations. This feels more like accentuating what I really KNOW from a deep level rather than just glossing over to positive thinking and ignoring the suffering, the pain, the real hurts. It’s like connecting with affirmations that might sound like positive thinking but are actually truths that resonate with my entire being. I know this wasn’t exactly your point–and so agree that victim blaming is not where love dwells. Thanks for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Kathy, and thank you for your input. I debated with myself over whether or not to bring up this subject because I know there are some for whom this is a way of life. And that’s fine. But I’ve run into people who insist that if it doesn’t work, then it means the person involved is not staying on track or some such thing, and I just don’t agree. I have seen good people who are in serious pain struggle with this kind of thinking, feeling they are to blame for their chronic pain because they might not believe hard enough or think positive enough, and it feels wrong. As you so wonderfully put it, “victim blaming is not where love dwells.” Thank you for that. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Eliza. ❤ I’m looking forward to casting my vote next week (when early voting starts in Maryland). We have been having such a difficult time getting our mail over the past couple of months that I decided I better vote in person.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I read through to the end, Robin, and I could say so much in response, as we are experiencing similar conflict in Australia. I will say just one thing though (as a long-time believer in the power of positive thinking) and that is your opening quote begins with beautiful thoughts and ideas, then merges into the negative. “We need to brace ourselves for a struggle…” is the point where so-called positive thinking fails, because talk about struggle is not positive thinking, so it is bound to fail. Then the naysayers blame positive thinking, claiming it doesn’t work. It didn’t work, because they haven’t continued the positive thought. Stay safe. xx

    I’ll leave you with a quote today –
    “There will be a time, not so far from now, that you will look back on this phase of your life and instead of condemning it or beating up on it… Instead of blaming or guilting, you will feel appreciation for it, because you will understand that a renewed desire for life was born out of this time period that will bring you to physical heights that you could not have achieved without the contrast that gave birth to this desire.” ~~ Abraham Hicks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughts on this, Joanne. ❤ For me (and this is just me, I’m sure it varies for others), I think it’s important to keep in mind that life does involve both suffering and struggle. What’s important is what we do with it. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs? I’m not sure. We might be on the same page, although I do respectfully disagree about preparing for a struggle being negative thinking. For instance, I live in an area prone to hurricanes. I hope that we won’t have to deal with one, but it’s good to be prepared for that possibility and what will follow should one hit this area because it does have the possibility of struggle wrapped up in it, especially for those who are less privileged than I am. I have someplace else to go, if need be. Others are not so fortunate. There is also the issue of things such as chronic pain. I can’t imagine saying to someone I love that their pain would go away if they would only continue to hold a positive thought. I might be misunderstanding what you said in your comment? My experience with chronic pain is that I am better off acknowledging it, sitting with it, even diving into it. Acknowledged pain tends to fade faster when I’m not trying to override it with positive thinking. Again, that’s just my experience. I know it’s different for others. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. With positive thinking, the concept is that you should do whatever feels “right” for you. It’s a far more complex subject than a lot of people seem to make out, and it’s not all about jumping up and down and waving streamers and saying “I feel positive” either. It’s focusing on the positive, on finding the positive in every situation in your life. I think I have said in a blog post many years ago that when my mother died it took me a while to find the positive in the situation when my heart ached, but after a while I realised that I had developed a closer relationship with my father, because we had each other’s undivided attention when we spent time together. As for pain, I can give you an example. My father-in-law has so many health issues that he’s a walking time-bomb. No, actually, he can barely walk because of his pain. He lives with pain every day, yet when anyone visits him, he always has a smile, a wink, and a kind word for them. Sure, he talks about his pain when he needs something for relief, but he isn’t allowing the pain to define his life. On the other hand, my mother-in-law, who is actually 18 months older than her husband, is in perfect health yet complains constantly that she’s in a bad way. Positive thinking is a lot about attitude. It’s also about allowing people to live their own lives the way they choose to. It’s far too complex a topic to discuss in a brief comment though. Maybe I need to write a few blog posts on the topic now my uni semester has finished, but even then, I hestitate at the ides. I could be mistaken as a person who is trying to preach to people that they should think the way I do, but nothing could be further from the truth. I will, however, offer information to another person in the hope that they may take something from it that is helpful to them. That’s all I’ll ever do. I’m pretty much a “live and let live” kind of person. You sounded so glum in your post, like you needed a hug, and I wanted to say more, but we don’t exactly live nearby to have a chat, which is a shame. Sometimes I just think a kind word helps. I’ll have to give what you have said some more thought, to see if I can explain my meaning more simply. ‘Coz I care about you, you know? We’ve been blogging buddies for so long and it’s difficult to pick up a vibe of unhappiness in you and then not say anything. I care too much. xx

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hugs and thank you so much, Joanne. ❤ I care about you, too. You’re right about how much easier this would be if we could sit down and have a chat. I appreciate that you took so much time and care to reply. I think we might be in agreement on much of this, but it’s not easy to put in writing. I understand completely about how people can take things the wrong way or think we might be preaching. I often hesitate for the same reason. Perhaps I was somewhat glum, but it stemmed from being concerned with the way things are going in terms of how we, as a collective here in the U.S. (because I don’t know what’s going on elsewhere), are ignoring the fact that the large numbers of deaths and infections represent actual people who have friends and family and are loved by others. It’s been a rough year in terms of not seeing family and friends (not just for me). Personally, it’s been rough in terms of the deaths of three friends and one family member. I usually do try to keep my blog tone upbeat but it occurred to me that it might be helpful if every now and then, I allowed myself to display the grief, the frustration, and even the anger, since I think it is something many of us are feeling. That said, I do agree (very much so!) that attitude is important. Your examples were spot on in that regard. We can take what we’re given with some grace and humor, or we can complain and be bitter about it. I do prefer the first option, and I think that it makes life much, much easier to have a good attitude. At the same time, I don’t want to repress what I feel. I’ve spent a good deal of my life doing that and spent the past year learning how to allow those feelings to be felt and composted, the way we compost food scraps and yard waste, so that it can be turned into something life-giving, full of nutrients and nourishment. Otherwise, it just festers. My other concern has to do with a conspiracy theory that is growing by leaps and bounds here (and elsewhere, I think) that the wellness and yoga industry have picked up and it’s becoming quite cult-like. It’s a little insane that people would believe some of that stuff, but so is our government right now (and there are some in our government who are pushing the theory).

          Thank you for the conversation. I know it’s difficult. More hugs.

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  4. The conspiracy theories! AHHHH! Heather Cox Richardson addressed it a bit in her FB talk today (regarding Hunter Biden, Russia, etc.). I don’t understand you-know-who’s supporters either. Yes, we both voted, took our ballots to the drop box, and we got flu shots, and I got my Walktober post done. 😀
    I remember a character in a novel who was a partisan resisting the Nazi’s said something like she couldn’t afford to have hope because she needed to focus on each day or even each hour–on just surviving. I tend to be a bit of a Pollyanna, but I understand that there is often something to that and positive thinking. I’ll stop now before I start ranting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m a little Pollyanna-ish, too, Merril. I tend to want to err on the side of hope and the positive. It’s not always easy these days so I end up going back and forth. Some days it all feels bleak. Other days, especially now that I’m hearing about and seeing all the long lines of people voting, there is hope. I keep reminding myself, too, that much of what has gone on over the last four years has been an intentional and manufactured chaos, and some of it was all bluster and noise without any real results (while keeping in mind that some of it did result in cruelty, since that was the point). I have a lot of hope for this upcoming election.

      Feel free to rant if you like. We all need to do it from time to time. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The thing about politics is that what people generally talk about is not politics. They talk about gossip and opinion. True politics has to do with principles and platforms and accountability. What passes now for political discourse is sheer nonsense. How we change that I don’t know, but I know that what we have ain’t politics… it’s control.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great points, Ally. All of them. There is very little in the way of substance when it comes to politics and political talk these days. And certainly very little accountability. sigh

      Like

  6. I am with you all the way about the absurd levels that positive thinking can ride or fall, too, depending on your point. Of course we need determination and optimism as we chart our course. But as our British friends might say, life is not all skittles and beer. There is suffering in this world brought about by disease, ignorance, and ill will. To work toward improving things does not mean ignoring suffering. Anyway, enough from me. And, yes, my husband and I voted. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love the Barbara Ehrenreich quote. I loved her book, “Natural Causes,” so I think I will have to read “Bright-Sided,” too. You can stay on your soapbox as long as you like as far as I am concerned. I wish everyone up on a soapbox these days could express themselves as eloquently as you have here. I have voted, now for the long wait…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Robin, so much here. I enjoyed every word. You are a very thoughtful, mindful writer and I appreciate your posts so very much. I just posted on FB today, that I had been reflecting upon the Oath of Office I took when I joined public service with a federal agency (the one being pushed to approve a vaccine.) ALL of the Oaths taken by career public servants AND elected officials mention the US Constitution. Somehow, as a country, we have strayed from the foundational values espoused by the framers, when they envisioned our striving for “a more perfect union”. I also agree that fear is the underpinning of so much of what is happening in our country and in other places in the world. Keep writing. Keep sharing. We who follow you appreciate your thoughtfulness. Sending love and blessings of peace to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Carrie. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. ❤ Yes, we’ve strayed, quite far away it seems. The polarization is tearing us apart, I think. I don’t know how we’ll find a different path, but I hope we do so soon. Perhaps the answer will be in shared grief, if we can get there.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is all so complicated. And yet it shouldn’t be. Truth should, somehow, be obvious to everyone, right? But there is so much brain washing going on. So many people with so much to lose if anyone listened to the truth. I’m sticking with science…with people that I think have the good of everyone in their hearts. Fauchi for one. If he says the vaccine is safe then I’ll get it. If he says it was rushed to market I’ll wait. I think all of this is going to get worse before it gets better. I thought we were hunkered down this spring, I think I will be hunkered deeper this fall and winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you, Dawn, on all counts. Unfortunately, I think you’re right about things looking pretty bleak for this fall and winter. There are shortages already, in terms of the drugs used to treat Covid-19 complications, and predictions of shortages of supplies (certain foods, TP again, etc.). A lot of essential workers are sick, tired, or dead. We also have to worry about our appliances, of all things. Apparently it’s very difficult to get new appliances now (if the old ones break down) or to get repairs. This sounds so doom and gloom. I do hope the predictions are wrong. In the meantime, I’ve got one appointment coming up this week (not sure I’ll go — still trying to decide) and then I think I’m gonna pretend to be a bear and hibernate until spring.

      Like

Comments are delightful and always appreciated. I will respond when I can (life is keeping me busy!), and/or come around to visit you at your place soon. Thank you!

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