The Power of Positive Thinking Bull in the Workplace

Generally speaking, I’m a positive person, more positive than most I would anticipate from interactions I’ve had with friends, relatives and neighbors–and the occasional Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christians and Mormons that knock on my door (they always say the world is getting worse and I say it’s getting better due to progress and a decrease in violence and prejudicial attitudes). So when I’m at my day job and have to hear about the power of positive thinking from management I try to be open-minded…until it is justified by quantum mechanics, cosmic consciousness and wish-fulfillment.

I had this happen the other night, and they mean well, but the power of positive thinking is eerily similar to the same arguments I hear for faith and prayer. If you believe/pray hard enough it will come true. The only difference is that positivity advocates appeal to  physics instead of gods and use the quantum level to correlate with the macro level (from particle behavior to human behavior). In particular, they love to bring up random number generators (RNGs) and the Princeton studies, because as we all know, if it comes out of Princeton it must be true. No one seems to mention that random number generators and a universally connected mind are not new theories and have never been accepted by peer-reviewed science. That doesn’t necessarily end the process of research as science does need to be open to new evidence, but it does mean that they have not made their case and the evidence is lacking as it is interpreted statistics.

The overall concept is to read “meaningful correlations into random data” (their wording) with the goal that if all of us are positive than the world will be a brighter place. From what I’ve read, physicists consider these extrapolated theories of positive thinking and cosmic consciousness from research in quantum mechanics and RNG statistics an abuse of science. They admit that on the quantum level it get’s weird–really weird. But that doesn’t mean there’s a correlation to positive thinking  and you suddenly getting a raise at your job.

I was bothered enough by the introduction of this concept that I did start to question my manager, unprepared as I was for such a discussion. The problem is with two people discussing quantum mechanics and RNGs who have no expertise in the field (not even close to expertise) is that you get two idiots getting nowhere in a debate. It’s rather comical. What is obvious, and I had to be delicate when asking this as it can get insulting, is that if the mind can essentially create luck by being positive–why am I working here? Why did I not wish myself into a juicy contract with a newspaper syndicate for my cartooning or get a sweet book deal?  Or even wish myself into winning the lottery?

It’s not like my day job is horrible–reasonably good pay, good benefits and likable people–but it’s not my dream job. And it’s not like I don’t get some great gigs drawing cartoons and animation. BUT I would rather write and draw all day long. I have to do my first love on the side  because, realistically speaking, drawing doesn’t pay all my bills and mortgage. I have two jobs which add up to a comfortable life.  The answer I got from my boss was, well, did you really want your dream job? Did you really, really want your dream job? In other words, I didn’t have enough faith in the power of positive thinking to clear a pathway to my dream job and, thus, that is why I was there doing more menial tasks for pay.

That’s where I had to hold my tongue, because looking around me I knew all sorts of positive people including my immediate boss and co-workers–and I also knew about all of their financial problems (people tell me everything for some reason). Problems from having to share a car because they could not afford a second one to debt-buildup due to health problems to personal bankruptcies from previous unemployment to foreclosures as the economy sunk numerous homeowners underwater. The power of positive thinking becomes bullshit when dealing with the obstacles of the real world. Fact is, if you read Stephen Hawkings and other physicists there is a growing consensus that freewill is an illusion due to causality and therefore if you think you can affect the outcome of your life by simply emoting positivity you’re only fooling yourself.

What should be made clear is that being positive is a good thing, but it’s not magic. For one, it may have to do with your chemical make-up which is why depressed people have to take mood-altering drugs; you may not have any control over how positive you are. But secondly, being positive simply allows you to function in a world that could crush you if you weighed all of the mundane daily tasks we have to perform, our decaying bodies, apathetic mother nature and the silence of no comforting voice from the heavens. You have to focus on what’s good in your life in order to combat the bad.

Being positive also creates opportunities. Other people are attracted to positive people and you will have more friends, more job opportunities and better relationships with the opposite (or same) sex. It’s not magic at all. It’s not bending particles to obey your will. It’s simply a survival technique which we most likely evolved.

We should also realize there  have been extremely successful people who were not positive. How many celebrity suicides can you count? Want an example from my specialty? Charles Schulz was not a very positive person (though there may be some exaggeration)–he often was depressed and then contracted Parkinson’s Disease (the worst thing for an artist to get, apparently the cosmos didn’t like him in the end). It was Charles Schulz’ abuse of Charlie Brown that brought him riches and fame–not a positive thing to draw, but hilarious. There are some positive elements to The Peanuts, but most of it is about character flaws, bullying, poor self-image and failure.  As I’ve said many times, humor is rooted in tragedy. Drawing the negativity for the sake of laughter most likely worked as a coping mechanism for the cartoonist. We benefited as we got to laugh along with him at the dark side of life.

To say that we need to be positive in the workplace may be necessary to correct poor behavior for the sake of the work atmosphere. To say that we need to be positive so we can control our destiny is magic. Let’s distinguish between the two. After all, it is easier and cheaper for a large corporation to teach you the power of positive thinking than to give you an actual raise (which might make you happier and realistically improve your life).

SIDENOTE: When talking about physics, quantum mechanics, RNGs, cosmic consciousness, etc, there are varying interpretations and even misinterpretations of how it relates to positive thinking. I’m referring mainly to what I was told which most likely was a jumbled mix of misinformation stacked on top of pseudoscience.




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