No. 310

One day last week I got a letter from a reader who said, “Dear Jim, I have always enjoyed your articles in the paper and have yet to disagree with any of them because they are all logical and try to be fair.” After what I have to say today I hope this good man can still make that statement, because I feel a great number of readers will disagree with me. I am willing to wade into the subject of “positive thinking” and go against the grain, because I believe that many people have been misled and it’s costing them dearly, especially in dealing with some of life’s most difficult issues.
Have you ever thought about where the term “positive thinking” came from? Before I share what I believe to be the answer, let me point out how the emergence of some words in our culture have greatly impacted our lives. A good example is the word attitude. Back in the late forties and early fifties when I was in high school we never heard this word used at all. Then by the early seventies, in education, attitude had become a ‘buzz’ word. Here I am speaking from first hand experience.
In 1970 when I started working with the late Earl Nightingale in the motivation business, he had recorded a message on cassette tape titled “The Magic Word.” The magic word was “attitude” and it was by far the most popular message in what was called the “Lead The Field” series. Back then I listened to this message so often that today I can still quote it almost word for word. The word attitude means, “the position or bearing as indicating action, feeling or mood” and it is our attitude toward others that will determine their attitude toward us. I still remember Earl saying, “If we let someone with a poor, negative attitude affects us, then we are admitting they are the stronger person.”
But back to the term “positive thinking” and why I believe we should avoid it like a plague. This term also evolved in our culture for a very simple reason. It was not and is not a desired thing for a person to be considered to be a negative person. Since the opposite of being negative is to be a positive person and since thinking was also something to be greatly desired, we just put the two together, hence “positive thinking.”
Should you talk with a hundred people in our society and ask the question, “Do you believe in positive thinking?” I dare say “yes” would be the answer for the vast majority. In reality, positive thinking is just a substitute for real thinking. It’s like dropping little “bromides” into the head that say, “If I can just see it or have the right positive thought, it will happen.” A good example is the sales manager who stands before his troops and says, “you can do it, you can double your sales and go over the top” and then it doesn’t happen.
The next month or quarter he goes through the same routine again and still it does not happen. This is why I believe the world’s pessimists were once positive thinkers. The truth is simply this. The reason that things did not work out or happen is because we did not do something. This is why when our backs are to the wall we need some real thinking and not just drop those little ‘bromides’ in our head. Due to positive thinking do you have any idea how many people are in hospitals today with ailments they said did not exist. Sometimes, often too late they have to be told they do exist.
On the other hand, a “positive attitude” is tremendous and is to be greatly desired. We get a positive attitude by successfully dealing with the exigencies of life. When we have worked hard, paid the price and have been successful, then we look forward to the next challenge with great expectations. This is what having a positive attitude is all about. In the meantime we should avoid ‘positive thinking’ like a plague. (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)