Going Negative

Monday, October 25, 2010

Barbara Ehrenreich, journalist, activist and author of Nickel and Dimed and Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America, discusses the current mood in the country and what she sees as an unwarranted obsession with optimism.


Barbara Ehrenreich

Comments [16]

Beck from NYC

Positive thinking can be of a denial type where the reality of ones experience is not faced directly and obscured by the superimposition of a rosy storyline. This is dangerous, personally and especially when it becomes political and mandatory. On the other hand, positive thinking grounded in one's own experience is critical in all situations because without intelligently training the mind in a positive direction, attaining positive results is very difficult at best. At the other extreme, having a negative attitude or leaving things entirely to chance can become nihilistic. So good luck to all of us in threading the needle!

Dec. 31 2010 11:03 AM
Levi Wallach from Reston, VA

I'm a generally liberal democrat and yet my BS/Nonsense meeter was going off continually throughout this show. Cheerleading was bad from Bush (presumably because he was a devil-Republican) but fine from Obama because he used the word "We" which is about unions? Give me a break! Ugh!

Sure there are downsides to positive thinking if you overdo it, just as there are to negative thinking if you overdo that. Ehrenreich's previous books were exceedingly negative - ONLY looking at the bad parts of our economy. Overly positive thinking may take away your motivation to change, but negative can paralyze you in a different way - by making things seem too overwhelming to address. Also, I bet you she's not a big fan of the Tea Party's non-positive thinking because it is on the wrong political side!

Sorry, but her thinking isn't just negative, it's just BAD thinking!

Oct. 26 2010 07:36 AM
geTaylor from Bklyn., NY

bob from huntington,

Nam Myo Ho to you!

Jon from Brooklyn:

I think you have it right (though the tone is somewhat harsh, dude.)
From Ms. Ehrenreich"s Wikipedia bio:
" . . . Ehrenreich is currently an honorary co-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America. . ."
Small wonder that she characterizes positive thinking by (or about?) individuals as seemingly problematic and delusional; whereas group positive thinking ("We are the change we the change we have been waiting for") is a valuable organizing tool for the Necessary Struggle.

Are her final words in agreement with Juan Williams?
". . . you gotta look at the dangers so you can do something about it."

Oct. 25 2010 02:26 PM
Peter from NYC

I agree with sean that she's "off-base" here. The reason has a lot to do with the way some types of rationalistic or even "scientifically-minded" people tend to exercise a certain reductivity to the point where what they have to offer in the end usually winds up being such a small piece of the pie, regardless of how much they're willing to talk around their points. Judging by some of the other responses here tho, I'm glad there are some folks who are alive and kicking (although I suppose I wouldn't go too far in that assessment).

Also, a big DITTO for Ruth K's comment about Thich Nhat Hanh, as it often applies to Buddhist teachers/teachings as par for the course; training in "mindfulness" practices and meditation is really an activation of the mind, NOT a retreat into some blissed out, non-responsible refuge of solitude: you are fully "on", fully "in the fire" of an awareness which becomes more ethical over time. There's really no escape.

Oct. 25 2010 12:05 PM
Ruth K from Queens

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh does NOT teach what Barbara Ehrenreich calls "positive thinking". He teaches AWARENESS of the moment, and to be aware of positive states, so as not to be caught in "negative thinking". As an example, if one is stuck thinking of all that one considers "negative", it is certainly helpful and accurate to be equally aware of all that one labels as "positive".
This is VERY DIFFERENT from "positive thinking" which is based on THINKING, rather than on AWARENESS, which is what Thich Nhat Hanh (and other Buddhist teachers) teach.

Oct. 25 2010 11:26 AM
Robert from NYC

Yes, she's always got it right. That's the American way, let's be positive and as the world crumbles around us, it will keep us secure... not safe but secure in our ignorance.

Oct. 25 2010 11:22 AM
d from nyc

positive thinking is akin to how an athlete thinks. An athlete will think forward to his/her goal so it can be reached. this is not saying that there it will be easy...
Sounds like she misunderstands positive thinking, unless I overestimate what the general public understands about positive thinking.

Oct. 25 2010 11:20 AM
sean from bklyn

I'm sorry Ms. Ehrenreich you are so off-base w/ this book. Positive or negative thinking is important if it moves someone to take action towards whatever outcomes they want. You are painting too broad a picture with this book.

Oct. 25 2010 11:19 AM
Phil Henshaw from way uptown

Barbara points out the real problem with our whole culture being averse to skeptical questioning of our own objectives. We often stick with efforts that are self-defeating without knowing, by shunning the people pointing to the need for new strategies.

If you don't see how far your efforts fall short, as with trying to reduce the scale of the economy with our strategy of making it more efficient, you'll never see the mismatch, and never see the need for a new approach and what a complete waste of time and dangerous delay putting more effort into an unproductive approach is.

Oct. 25 2010 11:19 AM

As usual, she speaks the truth!

Oct. 25 2010 11:19 AM
carolita from nyc

I think you have to draw a distinction between "wishful thinking", a false sense of optimism, and simply NOT getting down on yourself. Most of these "positive thinking" self-help instructions are about quitting thought patterns such as "Nobody loves me," or "I'll never succeed," or "I'm worthless." These are negative thoughts that, believe it or not, plenty of people actually have and are frankly debilitated and thwarted by quite commonly.
I believe in that. What I don't believe in is the whole "If you want it enough, you can have it" attitude that people bully their children with, and which does lead to feelings of failure when things fail to materialize just because of "wanting it enough." (Wanting and doing are two different things, for one. All the people I met when I returned to university at the age of 35 who said it had been their "dream" to return to their studies dropped out. I always said it was my nightmare and that I was there because I had to be there. I lasted them out.)

Oct. 25 2010 11:19 AM
Ken from Soho

As an antidote to her dangerous negativity, go to

Oct. 25 2010 11:18 AM
Gloria from Uniondale

Cheerful pessimism is the way to go. First accept that the human experience is FUBAR, then look for what you can change. You'll always be shovelling against the tide, but that's okay: what matters is you pick up your shovel.

Oct. 25 2010 11:18 AM
Alison from Brooklyn

I'm struck listening to this by the idea, something I've never considered before, that "positive thinking" might be unwittingly contributing to one of the most dangerous trends in our public life today: wishful thinking. It seems to me, and in my experience working to help citizens grapple with complex public issues and problems that one of the great obstacles to pragmatic problem solving is "wishful thinking" -- the idea that everything is going to be fine and no difficult decisions need to be made. It's something that erodes our ability to solve problems as a country and I've never considered that it's connected to your guest's argument. I wonder what she thinks about that...

Oct. 25 2010 11:18 AM
Jon from Brooklyn

This screed is just the latest effort by Barbara Ehrenreich to denounce democracy and capitalism, and promote her vision of a socialist (not "communist" but "socialist") state. She's another self-hating daughter of privilege that hasn't gotten over the failures of the '60's counterculture. As the late Morton Downey Jr. used to say, "Zip it!!"

Oct. 25 2010 11:17 AM
bob from huntington

Nam Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo

Oct. 25 2010 11:13 AM

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