Saturday, October 10, 2009

Burst the bubble!

Another week, another book. I know my posts haven't been about creativity and healing lately, but rather social and psychological topics. It's kind of hard to ignore those subjects in today's world. And we'll need all the creativity we can muster to get out of this mess, so bear with me!

Anyway, this week's post:

Any of you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed, a book that spotlights the working poor, people who work long, hard days as maids or waitresses or for Walmart, and yet can’t make a decent living? She took on poverty-wage jobs to see how these people live. It is a real eye opener, leaving you with a sense of compassion and indignation that’s hard to shake.

Her latest book, Bright-sided, explores the positive-thinking movement in America that she claims ruined the economy and set the stage for last year’s financial and real estate collapses. For a while there, it seemed you couldn’t get anywhere in America unless you were a positive thinker. But when you’re only looking on the bright side, she says, you don’t see the danger ahead. You live in a type of denial. (And people who tried to point out problems in the system were typically shunned as whiners and complainers, and even fired. That guy who tried to warn the SEC about Bernie Madoff’s tricks comes to mind.).

What’s more, she says, positive thinking has created a “winner takes all” mentality in America. If we refuse to see social inequality, we don’t have empathy for other people who aren’t doing as well as we are. We think that if they just tried harder, they too could grab the brass ring. But that’s too simplistic…some people just can’t get a break, and most of us do, at one time or another, lead Thoreau’s lives of “quiet desperation.”

Life is suffering. All the religions say it. It’s the human condition.

(As an aside: Buddhists say that we suffer because we want what we don’t have, and we don’t want what we do have. So the key to happiness is accepting right where you are and what you have right now.)

I’m all for Ehrenreich’s call for a return to realism and a sharing of the wealth--and the health insurance. Our finances are already demanding it, and socially, we need to move toward a more encompassing society, one that doesn’t segregate the few who are well-to-do from the many more who are poor and struggling. We’re all in this together.

Check out Ehrenreich’s website at and her blog at, where she talks about working in America.


marthaandme said...

I always thought "The Secret" was a bunch of hoo-haw, but I do find value in trying to have a positive outlook on life, while making rational decisions. I'd never linked the movement to the financial collapse though - that's very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

I love her books and the view she has on these undercurrents in our society.

Frugal Kiwi said...

Very interesting. I find the whole culture of High School Musical-style you-can-do-it-if-you-just-believe patently untrue, but never thought beyond it to greater societal impact. I'll have to keep my eye out for this one.

Alexandra Grabbe said...

Thank you for bringing this book to our attention. My husband, from Sweden, has followed her writings for some time. The Nordic countries in general have a totally different attitude towards poverty. It's unfortunate that socialism has such a bad rep in the USA. Even though a lot of European governments are not socialists, they share the same values as Sweden's Social Democrats. No one wants the type of Social Darwinism that exists in the USA!

Alisa Bowman said...

I think there's probably a middle ground. SOME positive thinking works for me, especially when it comes to self esteem. That's because I generally doubt myself in situations where I just shouldn't. So thinking positive (I can do this. Look at how many other hard things I've done. People really do respect me, etc), does help. It also helps when I'm stuck in a rut--when life generally sucks and it's just one bad thing after another hitting me. When I remind myself that it won't suck forever? It helps. I think that positive thinking went off the deep end, though, with The Secret and with any number of motivational speakers who linked it with money and career success. Thinking, "I will be rich" isn't going to get anyone any closer to being richer than playing roulette. And I agree that that type of flawed thinking--along with a healthy dose of greed--is what is causing our downfall.

Thanks for this review. I'm very interested to read her book.

Sheryl Kraft said...

I think you can have positive thinking without it being a tunnel-vision type of thinking. It comes in handy when you are facing hardships and need to get some impetus to make a move. However, it should not blind-side you into thinking that nothing else exists and the world is perfect. Interesting to hear her view on the impact of positive thinking on societal downfall.

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

I used to be a political consultant, and as such hob-nobbed with a lot of big time businessmen. They absolutely needed to practice positive-speak, if not positive-think, or they would be ostracized as (gasp!) negative. So I can buy her argument about that attitude helping lead to our financial downturn--which of course is too complex to have just one parent.

I have requested that people trying to get me to feel good about myself not follow me on twitter. I feel good enough, thanks. Now go away and leave me alone.

ruth pennebaker said...

As a breast cancer survivor, I'm particularly supportive of Ehrenreich's complaints about uber-optimism. You wouldn't believe what people say to you after you're diagnosed -- e.g., Your attitude is the only thing.
Well, no it's not. Your pathology report, whether you have medical insurance, how much support you have from family and friends are all powerful predictors. Too much blind, lockstep optimism is harmful and can be used to blame those who don't survive.

Susan Johnston said...

I haven't read her books, but from what you describe, she raises some interesting points. However, it seems to me there could be a happy medium between total, oblivious optimism and realistic upbeatness (is that a word? probably not).

Nancy Monson said...

Love all your comments! Thank you so much. And I am totally with you about finding a middle ground. It's called realism and we're in it!

Meredith Resnick - The Writer's [Inner] Journey said...

I think the element of being dedicated to reality is really what can and does effect change in each of us and, by extension, our world.

Jennifer Margulis said...

This is so interesting. I've been reading a lot about the importance of visualization and positive thinking and I guess her book really blows that out of the water. I REALLY want to read it. She's brilliant and daring and I'll be very interested in her argument.

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