genConnect at the Aspen Ideas Festival caught up with Barbara Ehrenreich, best-selling author of numerous books including the latest, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. In the interview below, Ehrenreich sheds a dark light on the consequences of too much positive thinking and over optimism. From her own personal attitude fighting breast cancer to the nation’s mindset leading up to world disasters, Ehrenreich explains why it’s okay to get angry, act realistically and go against the grain of America’s chipper mentality. Watch the video below:
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Reasons to Be Angry
Ehrenreich shares that after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, she became fascinated by the “Pink Ribbon culture,” and just couldn’t understand “what was pink, femme and fun about it.” She said she found the mentality that you’ll recover from cancer by having a positive, optimistic attitude to be really offensive.
The sunny encouragements she was receiving only made her convictions stronger. To hear that “Cancer was really a good thing happening to me … That coming out of this experience, you would be more evolved, more spiritual. That cancer was really a gift. Well, I thought, if this was your idea of a gift, get me off your Christmas lift!
“That got me thinking about the whole American tendency of optimism to the point of force and mandatory optimism, and I think there are reasons to be angry.”
Delusion Is Dangerous
“Delusion is always dangerous. If you are deluding yourself that everything is all right, when it potential isn’t, you are putting yourself in danger.” She’s not saying to fear the worst of every moment, Ehrenreich simply encourages everyone to foresee all the options. To see that the levees might break, to see that you could have a oil spill that is more like a geyser, to see that war in Iraq wouldn’t be a cake walk … “We get blind-sided as a culture because we are so addicted to this relentless optimism,” Ehrenreich said. The clearest example: The financial meltdown in 2008. “Many things caused this, but we psyched ourselves that housing prices only could go up, stock prices only could go up and things are getting better to the point that if you raise a concern, you could be fired for being negative. No one wanted to hear bad news.”
“Think realistically and devote yourself entirely to a cause that you’re not sure you’re going to win.” Go back to The Founding Fathers: When they signed the Declaration of Independence they knew they were committing an act of treason against the King, they knew the penalty for that was hanging and they did not have any reason to believe they could beat England in a war. But they did it anyway. It’s a frame of mind worth emulating: “It’s not guaranteed we’re going to win, but dammit we’re going to die trying.”
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Category: 2010 Aspen Ideas Festival