Sunday, August 28, 2011

Does that apply to nuclear explosions, too?

If you've visited this blog at leastwell, everyou know I'm not a fan of empty-headed sloganeering. If I had my way, we'd take all of the pseudo-inspirational platitudes splashed across those cloying posters that today hang on almost every executive's office walls, and we'd build one huge effin bonfire. (I'm referring to the kind of posters they sell, for example, here. Or in that special pullout section in the middle of all inflight catalogs.) To make things even better, ideally we'd start the fire with a coal that's a direct descendant of the ones Tony Robbins used in leading the "firewalk experiences" that launched his nine-figure motivational empire.

By now you're probably wondering what, ahem, inspired this tirade. On in the background is Extreme Makeover Home Edition. Tonight's sob-aganza focuses on a wo
man whose 30-year-old husband died suddenly of a heart attack the same day she gave birth to their first child. In the course of explaining how she decided not to let this tragedy throw her life into chaos, she says brightly, "You can turn anything into a positive."

Is that so.

To my mind, the death of her husband was bad enough in its own right, but I wonder if she'd still be talking about turning negatives into positives if, say, the baby had been stillborn as well. That's not even the crux of the issue, though. The crux is that you can't "turn anything into a positive." You absolutely cannot. To some degree, you can control how you feel about the negative
if you're equipped with that kind of equanimity and self-discipline. Many of us aren't. The larger point is that changing the way you deal with something is not the same as changing the something itself. Inhabiting a private world of illusion (or delusion) does not fix whatever core problem might drive a person to want to detach from reality. The soldier who returns from Afghanistan minus three limbs, and who decides to go back to college, get a degree and make as much as he can of himself, has not "turned a negative into a positive." He has simply survived. He is still missing those three limbs. And if he tells you that losing those limbs was "the best thing that ever happened to him," he's kidding himself.

I'm not a moron, and I'm not an unfeeling person, either. Quite the contrary. I know what the woman on Extreme Makeover is getting at: that some people, faced with tragedy, give up altogether, which doesn't help matters. I'll buy that. I'd never encourage a person who has experienced some misfortune to fold up his or her tent and wallow in self-pity. I'd hope that such a person would recognize that all is not lost (although in some cases it may be). That's not the same as "turning a negative into a positive." When we denature languageespecially when we do it in the service of that hypnotic illusion-world the New Age has foist upon us, in which the Universe will happily do our bidding if we can just learn to be of good cheer all the timewe also devalue the concepts that underlie language. You don't conquer failure by redefining it or wishing it away. You don't undo tragedy by "turning it into a positive." You don't beat cancer by simply "refusing to die of it," a la Lynn Redgrave (who, of course, died of it anyway).

No more than I can hit Aroldis Chapman's 105 mph fastball by telling myself that the pitch is really just lofting in at 60 mph.

22 comments:

Rational Thinking said...

Good to see you in feisty form, Steve. There's a sort of relentless quality to the positive thinking brigade, a la LOA believers, that can be very wearisome. I have nothing but admiration and respect for people who rebuild after the most devastating of personal catastrophes, but I agree with you - delusional thinking will not help, and will possibly hinder. Great post - thanks.

On another note - have you thought about having a SHAM page on Facebook? You'd reach a lot of people. Just a thought.

RevRon's Rants said...

IMO, our maturity as humans is judged in great part by how we react to adverse circumstances. Sometimes, those circumstances are so dire that the only real product of an objective assessment is hopelessness - an inability to even imagine a positive outcome. Far too many people don't survive that hopelessness. If some stupid affirmation or semi-delusional self-talk can help such a person overcome their situation long enough to go on with their life, I have no problem with it, so long as at some point, they become capable of recognizing how they "fooled themselves" into surviving. Having done just that, I can see its value as a transient coping mechanism only. Just lose it as a lifestyle, thank you.

My only problem is with folks who make a living - or worse, a fortune - peddling those little delusions. IMO, such people - Rhonda Byrne, Bob Proctor, David Shirmer, Joe Vitale, and their ilk - are no better than ticks, bloating themselves on the emotional blood of those gullible enough to follow them. Jesus needs to do a sequel to his whole "moneychangers" gig, IMO.

Stever Robbins said...

Regarding motivational posters, my favorites are here: http://despair.com/viewall.html. They are wonderful parodies that in some cases are much more true than the originals.

Regarding turning negatives into positives, it's fair to say that sometimes/often positive things can come out of tragedy. Those positive things may be developing coping skills, learning that you have the courage to deal with a tragedy you didn't think you could handle, etc. That seems legitimate to me.

Sometimes, good things truly do come out of tragedy. I met a teenage girl who was in a car accident, lost 3/4 of her brain(!!) and was decreed a vegetable. Long story short, she recovered in 2 years and with only 1/4 the brain mass, somehow began performing in school at the genius level, despite having been a mediocre student before. They were hypothesizing that perhaps her brain (still in formative years at age 14/15) compensated by adding massive numbers of new connections as it healed.

Often, though, I agree with you. Negative->Positive is mental reframing for the purpose of feeling better. That's a perfectly valid coping mechanism in my opinion, but that's all it should be viewed as.

Stever Robbins said...

RevRon: By the way, I just finished reading "59 Seconds" by Richard Wiseman. It's a recounting of science-based findings about how our brains work that can be used to make real changes in our lives.

There's been a fair amount of work done on studying visualization and its relationship to outcomes. According to Wiseman, it turns out, amusingly, that if you follow The Secret exactly, and imagine how you would feel to have the Thing You Want, you are less likely to reach your goals!

If, however, you make a step-by-step plan, visualize yourself in the 3rd person engaging in that plan (versus a first-person feeling of already reaching the goal), you are more likely to reach your goal.

[And by the way, the principle is simple: in the former case, you give your brain the feeling you already have something, so it doesn't feel the motivational tension to keep you moving towards your goal. In the latter case, you are occupying your thoughts with the concrete steps you need to take to reach the goal.]

But I suppose if you visualized correctly in the first place, you wouldn't need to buy The Secret 2, so it would be a bad business decision on the part of visualizers to speak up about this.

a/good/lysstener said...

I know what you're saying but posts like this still bother me, Steve. There's little enough to be happy about in life so why force people to focus on the ugliness instead of letting them try to "make something positive" out of the bad stuff? It seems a little cruel, though I do understand your emphasis on the reality of it.

Steve Salerno said...

Alyssa: Isn't "the reality of it" the whole point? That's why I wrote the darned book, after all.

Voltaire said...

Having spent too much effort fantasizing about ways to break the spell that irrationality holds on the general population, I find this post by Steve near and dear to my soul. Unfortunately burning all the motivational posters as Steve has fantasized about won't even make a ripple in the fetid pool of vacuous nonsense we humans are swimming in.

It just doesn't work. There's no way to stop it in most cases. I've mostly given up on stopping my fellow human beings from being stupid and have to console myself to making contact with other minds who aren't under it's spell, which is the very reason why I bought SHAM in the first place: finally, someone else whose seen thru the veil of baloney! Book sold on the spot! It's also why I keep reading your blog.

But of course the working word in the paragraph above was "mostly". I haven't completely given up hope; there's always a part of me that wants to find some way of stopping the baloney machine. But when confronted with the hysterical result of yet another attempt on my part of trying to help another person out of their irrational prison, I go on my way regretting I ever tried to remove the veil from their eyes. So many of these people act like addicts who panic at the thought that their supply of drugs being cut off it has led me to openly wonder if the real mechanism being used to sell is addictive in nature.

Steve Salerno said...

Volty et al: It warms my heart to see so many of our erstwhile regulars "resurfacing." Whether the comments are yea or nay, the fascinating opinions and observations voiced by you folks are what always made this enterprise worthwhile for me.

Voltaire said...

By the way, I noticed that someone else mentioned the book "59 Seconds". I found about this book a few days ago and an planning to buy it because it claims to be scientifically based.

I know, all the other self help books, some of which have felt the force of Steve's flamethower, all claim to be scientifically based but one can at least hope that this time it'll be different.

chris said...

Awesome blog! At last, someone is talking sense. I hate these fake corporate pseudo-hippies who are always trying to tell us to harness our inner dreams and buy their products. Dilettantes!

Steve Salerno said...

Why thanks, Chris. I'm glad you found us. And for the record, I'd say that even if you disagreed.

Cosmic Connie said...

Well, if the regulars checking in again will motivate you to keep on blogging, Steve, I'm glad to contribute to the effort. There's a lot going on in the New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality world, and we need your voice. Salty and I can't do it all by ourselves, after all. ;-) Besides, you're the one who got me motivated to start blogging in the first place.

Dimension Skipper said...

Completely agree. Just catching up on a lot of things virtual...

Was without power for 2.5 days due to Irene (I'm in central southern NJ, about 25 miles east of Philly... the storm really wasn't that bad right here). Though there were, of course, many outages all over town, mostly due to trees and tree limbs knocking down wires, my outage was only 4 houses in the middle section of my street (while houses both ends were fine the entire time).

Called in that the problem was our transformer had been tripped and that it would literally be a 2-minute fix for one worker with a bucket truck to come out and fix it. (And eventually he did and it was---I watched.)

When I and one or two others called in the issue we specifically stated there were NO lightning strikes, NO trees down, NO wires down. So what was the write-up for the incident when the "damage assessment" team and then finally the actual worker showed up?... "Downed tree limb on the wires." There isn't even a tree THERE, so why would anyone have said there was a tree limb down on the wires? Yes, we live in the age of communications.

So what could have easily been fixed 2 days ago (and I realize they WERE dealing with massive outages due to significant storm effects/damage elsewhere all over town), instead was put off because they somehow screwed up the message as to the cause (and even if they got the message correctly, the CUSTOMER couldn't possibly know what they're talking about, right?) and then put off even dealing because there were only 4 houses affected. Two of those homes have 80 year olds, one an 80-year-old couple, another my 83-year-old aunt living by herself (though admittedly with her own immediate family living right close by, but she wanted to stay in her own home). Dealing with Irene was easy... dealing with the power company was HELL! (As usual.)

I guess I should have just visualized HAVING power!

(...Hmmm, getting long... will followup shortly with a part 2....)

Dimension Skipper said...

(Part 2)

So after the power was restored, I start checking facebook again and read the many "Oh, we were so lucky" comments. They always annoy the hell outta me... If we were lucky the storm would have stayed out at sea and no one would have been affected at all (assuming boats and ships and their crews have the sense to be well away from the storm).

One person particularly annoyed me with a comment that her 2-years-dead Mother was an angel in Heaven or some such, looking down on them and her and he sisters and Dad protecting them, even keeping them from losing power. This was a 21-year-old girl who lives in the house right behind me. I get that it's a coping mechanism, I do, and I would never try to tell her otherwise or dash her feeling of comfort that such thoughts give her, however...

A certain part of me couldn't help thinking: Well, I guess MY dead Mother (AND Father, both only a few years dead before this girl's Mother) didn't go to Heaven or just plain don't have any pull with the Big Guy to protect me. People take comfort in these sorts of thoughts sometimes and don't even stop to think that maybe the thoughts are in a certain way quite cruel to others in their unspoken implications.

And then it's not far to really generalizing that if something bad happens to you, well, then you must hve deserved it and if something good happens, well, you deserved that too because God is in control of everything and never makes a mistake. Before long it's "Hurray look at me and my special connection to God, creator and master of the entire universe who is completely on the side of ME, ME, ME, ain't I wonderful and isn't it so awesome?!"

But maybe I read too much into it or think too much. Sigh. But why can't people just say, "Wow, I was really lucky" and leave it at that? And when bad things happen, why can't people just help as opportunities to do so arise without assigning benevolence or punishment intentions to a God that nobody anywhere can ever seem to agree upon as to form or function?

(Part 3 coming up and that's it, I swear... Apologies for going on so...)

Dimension Skipper said...

(Part 3a)

My neighbor (half of the 80-year-old couple) has a small spare "junk" truck he has always freely let me use to haul brush and various occasional accumulations of sizable downed limbs from several houses clustered here. Though I almost always only use it when he's around and still ask permission and then he will drive while I load/unload big piles of stuff.

I and my neighbors can prune our trees any time of year without re to the two times a year he township has curbside brush pickup. We dump it in a "hole" in woods nearby on private property. We have permission to do so and the man who owns the property has a permit to periodically burn off the brush pile. BTW, that man is in his 80s as well.

Turns out with Irene, the man who lets us dump all our brush over the years any time whatsoever had a lot of tree limbs scattered about his yard. I asked my neighbor with the truck if he'd like to help me go down and clear out the man's yard in return for all the, literally, tons of stuff he's let us haul away and dump over the years. My neighbor flatly refused, saying the man had able-bodied family that could do it! (I'm thinking at the time, "So?", and found out later, it's not necessarily even so. The man has always been one to mostly keep to himself, so I admit I don't know him very well.)

I didn't care, I saw an opportunity to precisely reciprocate and show real appreciation for him helping us through the years in this one specific way. Oh yes, I should mention that the man who lets us dump is currently in the hospital and is being moved to a rehab place, so he's not home (his wife is) and he has a significant illness (CHF plus diabetes... My Dad had CHF too so I know exactly what that's like).

So anyway several hours later I went back to my "truck neighbor" and (somewhat coyly, I admit) asked "May I please borrow your truck?" He pointed and said... "There it is." He asked, "You got more brush to haul away?" I said, "Yes I do. Thank you," and went and got the truck.

Later he realized or found out I was just at the next house down the road picking up the man's brush and hauling it. I had taken 5 or 6 loads and had a few more to do yet. There was chainsawing involved too to cut the many large pieces down to haulable size.

Now, I'm NOT saying any of this to brag or build myself up. (Hey, I'm pretty much anonymous here anyway.) I mention all this because my truck neighbor is a "Christian" and quite vociferous about it. He doesn't listen to music or the radio in his main truck when he's frequently out and about, if he listens to anything it's his mp3 discs (which I instructed him a few years ago on how to play and navigate around) of Dr. Charles Stanley (I think) reading the Bible (with frequent explanatory asides).

So when my "Christian" neighbor saw me during the one break I took, he yelled, "Where's my truck?!" I said, it's right there in my driveway. He said, "I want it back now!!!" I said, as soon as I dump the load that's on it, you'll have it back. And then he turned and stormed off with a loud, "The GALL!" I yelled at his back, "Well, I just thought it was the Christian neighborly thing to do, but I guess I was wrong!"

Dimension Skipper said...

(Part 3b and last!)

I was angry at his selfish attitude, but I was never disrespectful and I never lied to the man. I then went to another neighbor (who earlier had offered his truck, but it's a newer (only 6 years old apparently), nicer truck and I didn't want to take any chance of scratching it up if I didn't have to. He helped me load and haul off the rest of the brush.

I found out later that "truck neighbor" told his wife (a really sweet lady and she's aware of what I did, how I did it, and completely understands how it went down) that he made a comment to her (referring to me) that "He doesn't even READ the Bible!"

I'm sorry, but that's just a pitiful excuse for a Christian if that's at all representative (and I don't believe it is).

To be fair, the man is, let's say, "quirky" and his wife has trouble dealing with him more and more. I've always had minor occasional issues here and there when dealing with him, but there was never anything seriously and angrily directed at me, so I could always shrug things off as just that's the way he sometimes is. But in this instance I've never been more sure in my life that what I was doing was THE RIGHT THING TO DO and truck neighbor was just being a stubborn jackass for unknown, unfathomable reasons.

Don't get me wrong, they've been very, very good to me over the years and I've loved living next to them and doing things for them. She was concerned now that I might stop doing things for her and I assured her that would not be the case. I love doing things for her and (in the past) for him too. And they've always been appreciative and it's gone both ways, that they also do nice things for me. I've always said, "We do for each other, that's what friends and neighbors do." I don't need a Bible to tell me that. But I have other neighbors too, not just them.

I'm hoping he will (somehow) calm down and come to his senses, but we're in that avoidance/cooling off period now. This was just one time I wasn't gonna take crap directed personally at me for doing something I know was 100% the right thing to do (I just needed a truck to do it).

So in closing, I'll say this... "God, save me from the 'Christians'!"

(THANK YOU, STEVE---assuming you publish these---for letting me vent on and on and on, but at least I think I tried to keep it mostly on point with the post topic, though maybe I veered here and there. And I had to provide a certain amount of context or it would not have been so lengthy. Good to have power back so I can once again rant at the world!)

Steve Salerno said...

DimSkip: Happy to have you back...especially in the form of a novella. The man knows how to "return" in style!

Really pressed for time, DS, but I gotta say, the "we're so thankful that...[fill in the small piece of good news that occurred in the midst of some horrific event]" has driven me up a wall since...forever. It's like a plane will crash, and 156 people are killed, but by some "miracle" a baby is thrown clear into the snow (this actually happened, once, in the Brooklyn of my youth), and people start rhapsodizing about how "merciful" God can be. Excuse me??

If you want to have faith, and you draw comfort from thinking in the manner described above, fine...but please don't get insulted when I beg to differ with your delusional thinking.

Stever Robbins said...

DimSkip: couldn't agree with you more. Too many people need to learn to stop worshipping Christ and instead, act like him!

Am just moving on from 59 Seconds to Positivity, which is also heavily research-based self-help. It got me wondering about the difference between the stories we tell ourselves to feel positive emotions (which has apparently well-researched benefits) and the "truth."

In some arenas—most notable physics—the truth is what's most important. In taking care of our own psychological well-being, telling ourselves stories that keep us sane, whatever the story, seems to be most important.

We need to develop a way to distinguish these! I want a new verb tense so I can say something like:

It gives me great comfort to have faith in God [whose existence is not supported by data, but whose existence is an important psychological construct that I've chosen to believe in] when I'm pursuing my startup company in DNA sequencing [whose existence is scientifically supported whether or not I happen to believe in DNA].

RevRon's Rants said...

I never could buy into the idea of a God who controlled every little detail in the universe, because if I believed that, I'd have to acknowledge that there was just as much evidence of that God being an asshole as a benevolent being - actually, more so.

I do, in my own fashion, pray for guidance, protection, or most often, for the benefit of someone I love, but I make no pretense - even n my own mind - to knowing whether or not there's such a thing as Divine intervention. My best guess is that Source set things in motion in such a way that would in the long run be universally beneficial. In that light, my prayers are likely every bit as much affirmations of a gift already received as requests for some kind of divine intervention. Not much delusion in admitting I don't know, IMO.

DimSkip - Your truck neighbor reminds me of something Ghandi once said: "I like your Christ. I don't like your Christians. They are nothing like your Christ."

Cosmic Connie said...

I think this is marginally related, Steve, so I'll post it here instead of on one of your older Joe Vitale posts. Do you remember the infamous Mr. Fire pronouncements about the San Diego wildfires in 2007? Sure you do.

http://shambook.blogspot.com/2007/11/mr-fire-indeed.html

Well, as you may be aware, we're having serious wildfires here in Texas. Ron and I have been under mandatory evacuation orders since Tuesday. Major, major stress, as you can imagine. (And we are far from the worst off. Many people have lost or are in danger of losing everything.)

Well, now here's something to add to our stress:
http://blog.mrfire.com/a-texas-wildfires-solution

Highlight: "These fires probably represent our own inner anger."

I noticed all of the "miraculous" results Mr. Fire reported -- things that he implied were a result of his email blast -- happened in his area of Texas. Meanwhile, in my area of Texas (Waller-Grimes-Montgomery counties), things are still very iffy. In fact they're still iffy in Central Texas, too. Not that you'd ever know that from reading Mr. Fire's blog post.

This is beyond eye-rolling. Meanwhile, Ron and I are still packed up, ready to run out the door again at a moment's notice. I would really hate to think that all of these fires happened because we are such haters and have so much inner anger.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie, God (or the Great Spirit, or whomever) be with you and Ron.

Meanwhile, I can't believe Mr. Fire has repeated his indiscretion. Unreal.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I can't believe that you can't believe... knowing Tattoo as well as we do. :-)

We are safe at present. Turns out that my experience running booze into a dry county in college has come in handy, as we've successfully run roadblocks to get back to the ranch (in a mandatory evac zone) twice now. Not wanting top push our luck, though, so we're sticking close until either the order is lifted or we see signs of a genuine threat.

We appreciate your good wishes, but recognize that those wishes might prove futile when confronted with the overwhelming negativity of our hater selves. :-)

Here's to declaring Texas a no-fire zone (in every imaginable way)!