…because you’re a positive thinker

Posted on April 30, 2009


As compassionate, well-meaning human beings, we tend to believe that the worthy should get the prize. The person who struggles the most, the person with the greatest ability, the person who has suffered every form of setback, yet soldiered on with head held high — these are the people we feel are the natural choices for ultimate victory. And that’s very laudable, very noble, even kind of inspiring in its own way.

But then we take this attitude and try applying it to the universe as a whole. If we think the person who has struggled the most to get ahead should emerge victorious, then the universe should too.

It doesn’t.

The universe doesn’t give a crap about who struggles the most or who is most “worthy.” The only thing the universe is interested in is how to increase entropy and reach its ultimate goal of either a cosmic big crunch or a slow, lingering heat death.

Of course, there’s God, isn’t there? Maybe. But He, She or It is notoriously unreliable about imparting His, Her or Its rewards during our life times. “I envied the arrogant,” says the Psalmist in Psalm 73, “when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Likewise, Job laments that “the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power.” While in the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that God “maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

The fact is, the worthy fail and the unworthy succeed in depressing numbers. Perhaps these accounts are balanced in some afterlife; but here on Earth — well, let’s just say that if rewards were meted out according to true ability, Tesla would have died the richest man in the world while Edison would have languished in poverty. “The race is not to the swift,” says the Preacher, “nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

The lesson, simply put, is that failure is not necessarily the result of sin, negative mental states, nor lack of trying. Failure can, and often does, just happen.

To positive thinkers, this is unthinkable.

Positive thinkers, by cheerfully putting the roots of success in plucky courage, tireless effort, and faith in Providence, are engaging in a much darker mission: putting the blame for failure squarely on the shoulders of those who fall short of success. “A combination of belief and self confidence makes impossible things possible,” says a typical guru of this particular mind rot. The implication, of course, is that failing, even failing at the impossible, is your own damned fault.

This is especially malicious when it involves miraculous tales of survival.

In 1993, Gilbert Tuhabonye, along with 250 other Tutsi students, was taken by Hutu soldiers and put into a shed which was then set on fire. Only Gilbert survived. In 1996, the amazing young man, and outstanding track star, was one of those chosen to carry the Olympic torch on its journey to Atlanta. “I was carrying the fire,” he said. “It was a symbol. . . . I think God wanted me to survive the fire. Maybe God has a plan for me. Maybe the plan is for me to win a gold medal.”

I can just imagine the scene in heaven. Several angels come rushing up to God in a panic. “Look,” they say, “there’s a terrible fire. All those students are being roasted alive. We’ve got to do something.” But God is presently trying to fix the garbage disposal in His kitchen. “Can’t do it right now,” He tells them. Then he happens to look down and see Tuhabonye in the conflagration. “Oh! Tuhabonye! Get him out. I want him to win a gold medal.”

We read about it time and again in newspapers. People survive a tragedy claiming hundreds of lives, and then say, “God has a plan for me.” That’s fine, but didn’t God have a plan for the others? Or was His plan for them to die horrible deaths for no reason?

For every inspirational success story, there are thousands of bitter defeats suffered by people who were just as worthy, just as hard-working, and just as positive in their outlook.

There is a disturbing negative side to the whole New Age, positive thinking movement. I recall “Love Guru” Leo Buscaglia telling a story about how he’d run up to a beautiful blonde to tell her how lovely her hair was, only to have her walk away in fear. When that happens, he told his followers, when someone rejects your advances made in the name of spreading joy and happiness, just tell yourself that it’s too bad for that person — now they’ll never know how nice you are.

I get as sick of doomsday criers and professional pessimists as anyone else, but it’s the chronic positive thinkers, with their readiness to blame every failure on a person’s mental patterns or lack of committment, that really tick me off.

And that’s why I don’t like you.