Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Vigilant Realism

A few weeks ago Victoria pulled me aside to watch and interview with Barbara Ehrenreich on The Daily Show. Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. A few years ago Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was overwhelmed with well meaning people telling her to avoid any negative emotions and to stay positive. She began to look deeper into this cult like attitude that so many people have that you can jinx your health, relationships, and your carrier if you don’t always keep a positive attitude.
Not many of us enjoy being around a cynic all the time. Don’t mistake Ehrenreich’s criticism of the giddy optimism promoted by so many as cynicism. It isn’t. She merely points out that being unrealistic about things can be far worse than just the occasion outward sign of frustration of negativity.
Last month while reading Emotional Awareness the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman pointed out that optimism can be just as destructive as pessimism if it prevents us from seeing events as they really are. Ehrenreich builds on this theme and shows case after case where people have been deluded by their own optimism. She goes in dept to point out how destructive this mindset can be. Blinded by optimism we set reason and rational reactions aside.
This book pulled from and added to many of the books and issues that I’ve been studying for the last few years. She tackled many of the peddlers of irrational optimism like, Oprah, Rick Warren, Joel Olsten, Zig Ziglar and many others.
Unfortunately we live in a time when a book that is literally about nothing more than wishful thinking is a best seller and celebrities and actors are seen as authorities on just about any topic just because they can share a personal anecdote. I’m sorry a personal anecdote is where science starts, not where it ends. Just because Suzanne Summers feels better after a colonic doesn’t make it science and foregoing real treatments can kill you with or without a positive attitude.
I really enjoyed seeing a book that was so passionately pro-science and anti-magical thinking get such good press. I couldn’t put it down.

“A vigilant realism does not foreclose the pursuit of happiness. In fact, it makes it possible.” Barbara Ehrenreich


  1. Saw that interview and looks like a great book. Hope someone shows it to Oprah.

  2. You put this review so well. The author is not cynical, which is how she might initally come off. Each chapter was relevent. Well worth everyone's time to read.