The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Today was my late father’s birthday and I feel down, to be honest. He would have turned 84 today. We had a very strained relationship for decades, for which I feel great remorse. I’m grateful we were able to come together, reconcile and start a new relationship over six years before he died. I treasure those times and while we always disagreed on much – like this book and similar ones – and while we had some fierce debates, I’d give damn near anything to have the opportunity to talk with him once again, even if just for a week or so. The irony of my thinking life sucked during our years of estrangement yet can’t begin to compare with how my life has TRULY sucked ever since he died is never lost on me. So I decided to re-read one of his favorite books in honor of his birthday this year, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever reviewed it, but I’m going to now. And true to form, just because I read it in honor and memory of my father doesn’t mean I’m going to treat this with kid’s gloves. Heh.
So my late father loved these books, especially this one. Sadly, I’ve never seen or thought of much that was positive or worth the effort of trying to fake myself out. Needless to say, Dad and I agreed to disagree. But it’s not just this book or author. I hate ALL books like this. One I especially detest is Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. Just like former Rep. Paul Ryan used to force all of his (new) employees to read that faux philosopher Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and others of her objectivist literary claptrap, one of my early employers was old school and required all of us to read Think and Grow Rich. Honestly, I do know many of these types of books help, or so it’s claimed, many people. And goody for them. As long as it’s not harmful, whatever helps. (However, food for a different argument, I would assert the BS spewed forth by Rand in particular has and DOES hurt people, and moreover she knew it and didn’t give a shit, which seems to me to boil her ideology down to its very basic premise of Be Selfish [and screw others]. Etc.)
Dad, and millions like him, was enamored with those who exuded the “power of positive thinking,” and he was a regular viewer, reader and supporter of people like Joel Osteen and Robert Schuller — and in trying to be fair and moderately objective, I joined him for many viewings and we’d often discuss things that came up.
Dad sometimes accused me of being a pessimist. I countered by stating I was a Realist. I grew up being taught ideals about humanity and society that, if they ever existed at all, had long ceased to exist. I’ve spent time, politically and spiritually, on the right and left (and center) and I’ve seen strengths and weaknesses of most every side. I think one of the greatest weaknesses, if not failures, of US progressives is the tendency for many such to live in the magic world of idealism, where things “should” be fair, where justice “should” prevail, where we don’t stoop to dirty dealings or hitting below the belt (politically, perhaps) because “decent” people don’t do that, etc. My wife was brought up in the same tradition, but with no religious background and I thus suspect it was more of a generational thing. And my wife had exhibited those same tendencies her entire life. But the sad fact is, they’re wrong. Life SHOULD be about good, right, fair, just, etc., but it’s NOT, never has been and never will be and most progressives never seem to get out of the clouds to reality-land to freaking understand that. As a result, former Republican strategists like Rick Wilson write openly about destroying progressive and Dems in elections for years because if they even knew how to fight dirty, they wouldn’t. Thus, easy pickings. Is that fair? No. Good? No. Just? No. The way of the world? Fuck yeah! After a dozen years with me, my wife (sadly, the loss of innocence…) reached the point where she got what I was talking about, witnessed countless friends and colleagues rely on the Supreme Court, Constitution, laws regarding violence, homicide, protection by legal authorities, etc., to ensure all would be right and good only to see reality bitch slap them repeatedly so that BLM turns into a “terrorist” group or antiracists and antifascists are labeled extremist terrorist groups by the very goddamn fascists they’re attempting to stop their insane-yet-predictable racist/sexist/theocratic war on America, etc. Despite this, she’s far from the only one to catch herself in a “Should” situation — I occasionally do myself. (But it SHOULD be like this or that… Yeah, but then there’s something called reality and Should gets shoved to the side and you may not like it, but if you don’t or won’t adapt, you’ll get crushed.)
Dad was a very smart, educated self-made man who worked his ass off. I don’t begrudge him finding some optimism and a sort of happiness in this and similar books and authors. But just because I don’t doesn’t mean I’m a bad person or hateful or a bad “fatalist” (though fatalism and nihilism occasionally make more sense to me than some other ideologies). I just know that far too many people are influenced by these types of things and Peale, from all I know, wasn’t a charlatan, but many out there are — I doubt I need to recite the many examples of the Prosperity Gospel crowd getting aging widows and pensioners to send in their monthly checks while the recipients buy yet another personal jet, island or Rolls, etc. Is that cynical to say? Who cares, cause it’s the truth, it’s reality and it may suck, but if you’re going to hide your head in the sand cause reality sucks, then IMO you’ll deserve what you may have coming at some point. Life isn’t peaches and cream except for a very few and while we “should” strive to personally grow, ideally help some others when possible, etc., rejecting or denying reality in the process is disingenuous at best.
I would never recommend these inspirational books despite their popularity because I think many are simply vapid, repeated sayings devoid of actual meaning, masturbatory efforts to affect change when one “Should” be strong enough to do so without resorting to pop culture rah rah books (ever been to a Tony Robbins motivational seminar?), etc. (Notice the nice ironic use of “Should” there?) My point in that last bit is that perhaps one might feel inclined to say one Should not have to resort to these motivational books and authors to get themselves into gear. But that’d be unrealistic because obviously many more think they do benefit from this and other books, so that Should probably ought to be retired like most others and acknowledgement given that while one is a cynic, others are not and indeed there are many types, which I’d hope might be apparent these days. Thus, while I typically wouldn’t recommend nearly any of these types of books, having read tons, I’d say Peale’s is one I’d feel more comfortable endorsing for those who find value in such things, and with that caveat I cautiously recommend this to those interested.
[Dad, I miss ya man! RIP. Love, your son.]
One thought on “Dad’s Birthday, the Power of Positive Thinking & Some Perspectives Offered”
Positive thinking has its place, but it cannot and should not be the only coping mechanism one has. It has been shown that gratitude, for example, produces serotonin and dopamine, but admittedly, it can be a struggle sometimes to feel grateful when the negativity in the world seems to be at the top of everyone’s minds. Happy heavenly birthday to your father. I’m glad that you two were able to reconcile. Not everyone can say that.