Why “stop being negative, be more positive” can be counterproductive

Many are complaining that Get Real Philippines is so negative. They want us to come out with more positive articles. They say we are not helping with our negative messages.

Oh, really? How sure are you about that?

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As fellow blogger Kate Natividad wrote, being positive has become much too overrated already because it serves only to quell needed criticism. I earlier wrote an article at Antipinoy where I asked, Do Filipinos really know how to be positive? I think many don’t. This is because many people see positive things as only things they want to see or hear. What they seek are only pleasant things, and they refuse to face problems and critical issues squarely, thus leaving them unsolved.

This for me seems to be a fulfillment of this Bible verse: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Sounds a lot like these “positivists,” doesn’t it?

Also, it’s because what’s positive to one may be negative to another. For example, at work, you tell a colleague, “why did you put your relative in this job, even if he doesn’t know anything about it?” The colleague replies, “Shut up! You’re being negative! Just think positive and he will do fine.” If someone tells me, it’s negative to say Pinoy Pride is wrong, I will disagree. Pinoy Pride itself can be negative, because that message tries to imply that Filipinos don’t believe in themselves, so they have to make a ra-ra “I’m superior” cheer just to feel good. But it’s based instead on getting a temporary high without getting long-term results. It’s more positive to be humble and go about one’s business without drawing attention to oneself. Besides, the noisier people on the Pinoy Pride bandwagon actually want attention for themselves, not for the country.

The reason why people would ask for positive, or only feel-good messages, is because they have low acceptance. Acceptance is a necessary stage when dealing with crises or problems, such as grief after someone’s death or substance abuse. If you haven’t reached the stage of acceptance, you’re in a stage of denial. Most sources equivocally say, denial will prevent you from solving your problem. You will instead engage in escapes – such as immersing yourself in “positive” things only, trying to shut out the negativity. But that won’t help. What helps is accepting that there is a problem and squarely facing it.

“Be Positive”: Fad from the so-called self-help movement?

In the article, 8 Reasons Why it’s Hard to be an Introvert in the Philippines, the number 3 reason mentions “Parents who are stuck in the 1950s” who read Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People (1934). The way this is written implies that Carnegie’s ideas may be obsolete today. For example, some may believe Carnegie said extroverts tend to be more successful and better people. This causes some to condemn introverts. Thankfully, a new generation of self-help books, such as Marti Olsen Laney’s The Introvert Advantage, help challenge the old paradigms.

A contemporary of Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, helped influence modern ideas about positiveness. His seminal work, The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), is perhaps where the term “positive thinking” and the insistence to “be positive” were popularized. While the book has its merits, there are now many criticisms.

The criticism of Peale’s book, and others, was that, while it did seem to have a good premise, somewhere along the line appeared a corrupted variation of “positive thinking.” This variation could be traced to the New Thought movement associated with Phineas Quimby. This became the basis of the popular The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (perhaps even of The Secret of the Ages by Robert Collier, which Byrne reportedly sourced her ideas from, and probably even Napoleon Hill for his Think and Grow Rich. Another is The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles). This “positive thinking” had the belief that people naturally have mental powers that can change reality. Thus, if people think something, like “nothing will go wrong,” “my sales pitch will be immediately accepted,” or “I will be a millionaire,” it will become real. Some people even go to the extent of thinking this without acting.

The beliefs held by Byrne, Hill and many others usually circulate in multi-level marketing circles, such as in Amway. Many now know that these are actually used to manipulate people and make them shell out money to help their uplines, only to realize later that they will never be rich and only made their uplines rich. Positive thinking is used to silence dissent so that people can be kept oblivious of the real nature of some MLM schemes and will follow like sheep. Many Filipinos have probably gone through this and may be the ones demanding that we be more “positive.”

Let Barbara Ehrenreich explain how delusional positive thinking has become in this excerpt from her speech, accompanied by an RSA Animate graphic presentation:

Ehrenreich puts it nicely. Telling people to “be positive” was actually a method of social control and quelling dissent. Isn’t that what many Filipinos, like those who are members and supporters of the Aquino administration, are doing?

There is even the proposition that self-help writers actually wrote these books as their money-making machine. When they describe their experiences in making money or hitting it big, these are all actually fictional accounts. This is how John Reed believes Robert Kiyosaki did it. In other words, it’s possible that many of the original self-help movements and works were actually the first money-making scams. They just use this formula: take some nice quotes, put them in a book, put your name on the book and let people pay you for it (wait a minute… isn’t that plagiarism)? Think of the Bible verse above.

What is Real Positivity?

I’m actually fine with real positive behavior, or avoiding unnecessary pessimism. I am aware of research saying the right amount of positiveness is good. However, some Filipinos are overestimating the value of positiveness in thought only. Real positiveness is manifested in action.

Perhaps this piece of advice from the real positive gurus is the right one to highlight: if you want positiveness, don’t ask for it from others. Make it yourselves. Because that is the object of true positive thinking. You believe something is right, go out and act to make it happen.

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You think I don’t want to be happy? I do. But I believe you can’t be happy by being all positive. Happiness also comes from being able to properly deal with the negative. Shutting out the negativity will only hide it, but it’s still there. Real positiveness is accepting the problem, no matter how negative it is, and saying, “yes, I can deal with it.”

We are unfortunately a culture that’s absorbed with self-image, afraid that negativity will only push down our image and bring us down to shame. But this is wrong. Image is nothing. Doing what is right is everything. That is one of the most positive thoughts you can have for any day.

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About ChinoF

I stick with this blog because I believe, as my cohorts do, that many things Filipino embrace as part of their culture keep their society backward. And blogging freely to show that in a truly decent society, with true freedom of speech, even nobodies have a voice.