The power of negative thinking

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John Gravois, writing an open letter to Oprah Winfrey in Slate, praises Karen Cerulo's book Never Saw It Coming as an antidote to the Oprah-promoted "law of attraction" craze:

The Secret tells us to visualize best-case scenarios and banish negative ones from our minds. Never Saw It Coming says that's what we've been doing all along—and we get blindsided by even the most foreseeable disasters because of it.

Americans don't like thinking about likely negative outcomes. Only 30% of us have wills, despite the fact that 100% of us are going to die.

We dislike thinking about negative outcomes so much, we resent anyone who tries to make us face up to the hard facts:

But unfortunately, we go to great lengths to make people who think negatively feel unwelcome....

Just think of all the pejorative and even pathological terms we have for doomsayers. Like, for instance, doomsayer. Also alarmist, naysayer, paranoiac, complainer, defeatist, downer, and killjoy. Rack your brain: It is hard to think of a laudatory term for contemplating the worst-case scenario.

He forgot fearmonger, nattering nabob of negativism, and Ken Neal's favorite, grump, which he could use as both noun and verb.

But we need naysayers to keep things running smoothly:

Cerulo argues we have a lot to learn from two groups of people who have emancipated themselves from the pressure to think positively. She points out that medical workers and computer technicians—the professional troubleshooters of the world—keep our bodies and mainframes running by being paragons of pessimism. When doctors and IT workers take up a case, they begin by dispassionately assuming the worst and then move up from there.... While this may sometimes make doctors and techies a drag, it also helped them avert worldwide disasters like the SARS outbreak and the Y2K bug.

Say it loud, I kvetch and I'm proud.

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1 Comments

sbtulsa said:

sometimes looking ahead and telling us what to look out for is considered negative. if that's true, the obvious remedy is to ignore the future. seems to me a little pessimism is a sign healthy awareness.

according to gordon prange's book "At Dawn We Slept", the attack on pearl harbor was known before it happened. the chain of command did not believe the pessimists and did not react in time.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 17, 2007 6:00 PM.

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