The Negatives of Positive Thinking and Vice Versa
By Tom Ryan
author Barbara Ehrenreich rails against what she considers the often harmful
side-effects that come from positive thinking messages being pushed throughout
society and corporate America.
penchant for positiveness to an overreaction to Calvinism, she lambastes
the panoply of business books equating business success with a positive
attitude, unsubstantiated medical claims linking cheerfulness to recovery,
and numerous religions touting the virtue of downplaying problems. In doing
so, she takes on motivational speakers, life coaches, prosperity-pushing theorists
embodied by the book, The Secret, as well as none other than Oprah.
inspiration for Bright-Sided came after her bout with breast cancer.
Her anger, fears and impatience clashed with the pink ribbons, top-ten
motivational lists, and support groups where the word “victim” was taboo,
according to a review in The New York Times.
She was particularly impatient with those who link a tragedy such as cancer
as a change driver in their lives, such as when Lance Armstrong stated
was the best thing that ever happened to me."
angry, frustrated or even depressed has its merits, she argues. This includes
recognizing problems and changing one’s life through a new career or other
moves, and bonding together with other people to fix a situation.
on the positive leads to isolation and conservatism, she claims.
"I would like
to see more smiles, more laughter, more hugs, more happiness," Ms. Ehrenreich
writes. "But we cannot levitate ourselves into that blessed condition by
Ms. Ehrenreich relates the number of ways upbeat messages are used to drive
performance and perk up employee morale.
a sap to those facing layoffs, used as a spur to better performance by
those workers who remain (often while enduring cuts in pay and benefits)
and relied on as an excuse to ignore unpleasant inevitabilities like bubbles
bursting, American positivism reaches its giddiest and most dangerous heights
in the corner office” wrote Kate Tuttle in a review for The
But at least
one reviewer, Christian Perring, writing for Metapsychology,
was less convinced when Ms. Ehrenreich applied her theory to the business
setting. Noting how her own company’s morale was taking a hit amid budget
cuts, she said some team work efforts could be appropriate.
“I have no interest
in participating in a workshop to boost positive thinking, but it would
make sense for those with a responsibility for the flourishing of the institution
to engage in some teambuilding,” Ms. Perring wrote.
Questions: What are the pros and cons of positive thinking as a core
management emphasis? How objective, for example, should managers be in
discussing company challenges/prospects with employees?
- The downside
of cheering up – The Washington Post
- Happy Days
– The New York Times