Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Power of Positive Thinking

The title above is not original, I admit, but seeing the glass half full—to borrow yet another cliché—goes a long way in making life enjoyable, for myself and others. It’s easy to be a sourpuss, at least it is for me, given my lifelong addiction to the perverse and repulsive; yet, what with the meds, counseling, and a shot or two of Old No. 7 in the evening, I’ve resolved to be more upbeat. Who likes being in the company of a curmudgeon? Seeking ways to edify friends and acquaintances, I now refuse to discuss what I don’t like and instead share with others what I do like. Case in point: I like the fact that those who have grievously wronged me will get what’s coming to them in the next life. I take great consolation with the thought that someday I’ll be seated in celestial glory on the balcony of heaven, munching popcorn with Jesus, Gandhi, Dante and Orville Redenbacher (who graciously provided snacks) as we watch those miserable wretches below in everlasting flames wishing for nothing short of an eternity that they hadn’t crossed my path.

Yes, I have opted to focus on the sunnier side of life. For me, this means the absence of evil people who have been spirited away in the middle of the night by grim-faced men in jackboots wielding truncheons at my beck and call, only to find themselves in the basement of my apartment building hanging by their necks with piano wire. With such a sanguine outlook I hope to be a source of encouragement—someone you’d love to have around, someone who puts a smile on your face, a refuge from all the negativity out there. If you were to insist on ruining everyone’s bliss with lamentations about a cruel dog-eat-dog world, I would gently admonish you. Don’t be deceived by the annals of history that appear to bolster your case; or the daily newspapers that would ostensibly give you ample ammunition for your thesis; or even your own experience which allegedly supports your claim with countless examples from the workplace.

As a species, I would tell you, we are kind-hearted, sweet-natured, and respectful of others. Sure, one might point out that people at best look out for immediate loved ones, extending a helping hand outside their tight circle only when it’s convenient and entails little to no sacrifice. That men and women exhibit empathy toward their fellow human beings reluctantly, and in strict accordance with a progressive series of concentric circles: first to their nuclear family, second to their extended family, and so on to the tribe or clan, nation, and world. Don’t be so dreary! Had I not resolved to think positively, I would have suggested that you walk your killjoy ass right off a cliff. I know it’s tempting to become cynical. I realize that people can be so selfish and unkind.

Admittedly, when I watch pundits and politicians on TV, when I peruse articles in The Economist, when I negotiate traffic with drivers busily texting on their cellphone, I often feel like a fin-de-siècle eugenicist trying to distinguish the idiots, morons, and imbeciles. But I don’t let these momentary lapses into negativism divert me from good wholesome thoughts, nor should you. Even that stick in the mud John Calvin saw the world as the dazzling theater of God’s glory. Talk about the glass half full! So don’t let any of those nattering nabobs bring you down with their doom-and-gloomism.

A friend of mine brought my attention to the Platonic ideals of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness and has resolved to promote these virtues in his interactions with others on a day-to-day basis. He asks himself every morning: How can I be a conduit for the beautiful, the truthful and the good? In this way he hopes to live an ethical life. Never mind that Plato’s idea of beauty was probably akin to that of Gustav von Aschenbach, the protagonist in Thomas Mann’s novella Der Tod in Venedig. The symbol of beauty for them was a teenage boy they could sodomize. Forget that Plato’s idea of goodness for that matter involved a philosopher-king and his technocrats putting the dull-minded subjects in their respective ear-marked positions, whilst they, the so-called “enlightened,” live high on the hog at their expense. Put aside, finally, that the Athenian’s conception of beauty, truth, and goodness was based on a metaphysical world of ideal forms that most thinkers nowadays consider bogus at best.

But here’s the point: We’ll get more enjoyment out of life, and perhaps make more friends too, if we inculcate a sunny disposition, if we gird ourselves with a cheerful attitude. We can choose to be morose or sanguine. We can view serial killers as sadistic murderers joyfully inflicting pain on others or as misunderstood souls crying out for help. We can see AIDS in Africa, the 2004 tsunami, global warming, or worldwide poverty as a bummer; or we can see them as fun challenges to overcome. You can look upon the jerk at work who kisses up to the boss and badmouths his coworkers as what in common parlance is sometimes referred to as an asshole, or you can appreciate him as a spunky guy who realizes the importance of networking. I suspect some hateful individuals will see positive thinking as a kind of lobotomy in which one willingly excises reality from their brain. But is that so bad? You can persist in your negative realism, if you wish, but I see nothing but blue skies in the forecast.