Don’t Visualize, Organize!

That is the takeaway message from Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

Like much of Ehrenreich’s writing, it is fueled by righteous anger.

First, as a breast cancer patient, she is disgusted by the happy-face positive thinking of what she calls “pink ribbon culture”:

The cheerfulness of breast cancer culture goes beyond mere absence of anger to what looks, all too often, like a positive embrace of the disease  (27).

From there it’s often into the “motivational” business culture that routes laid-off employees into seminars where they learn to be “a brand called you.”

And there is “prosperity theology” in the churches, a/k/a “God wants you to be rich,” and “positive psychology” for the non-churchgoing.

Not to mention the “prices will always go up” thinking that contributed to the recent real-estate bubble!

And in Ehrenreich’s view, it’s 99 percent bullshit, a new synthetic Big Pharma opiate of the masses that prevents people from clearly seeing their economic and political quandaries.

She does give some space to a fairly mainstream history of creative visualization (or whatever you want to call it) via New Thought, Christian Science, and so on.

Reading Bright-sided as an adherent of a magical religion, I obviously have some disagreements with Ehrenreich’s wholesale condemnation.  These things work, sometimes with unexpected results–hence the old admonition to be careful what you ask for.

So where do we draw the line between possible and not possible? I do think that “visualize world peace” is a fruitless task, although one may act in a peaceful manner. And whatever you seek under the idea that “thoughts are things” has to be backed up and affirmed by tangible actions.

6 thoughts on “Don’t Visualize, Organize!

  1. Yewtree

    She's got a point, though – if I had a dollar for every time I saw someone magically intervening but not backing it up with physical / political / economic intervention, I'd be very rich.

  2. JohnFranc

    Are you visualizing or are you daydreaming?

    Visualizing focuses your thoughts, and your thoughts focus your actions. If your visualizations are vague or inconsistent, so will your thoughts and your actions. For visualization to work, it has to lead to tangible action.

    My Baptist father used to say "pray, but put legs on your prayers." He would have made a good magician.

  3. Sia

    I like the title of this post. I often use the quote that "Lighting a candle is not enough" when encouraging folks, Pagans in particular, to do charity work and get involved in grass roots community efforts. This issue is something that Carolyn Myss writes about in Sacred Contracts. I think that Terry Pratchett says it best when he notes that "Witches deal with things".

  4. Clare Slaney

    The older I get the more I understand that many people have no idea what’s real and what’s not real. What becomes real is that the smiley happy people have more power than the miserable old boot saying, “Breast cancer is killing me and I don’t feel blessed at all.” Positivity is powerful in addressing problems rather than passively accepting everything with a Stepford smile: it’s been turned into lighting candles for peace and keeping the peace at all costs when sometimes consensus reality needs a shake up.

  5. Anna Helvie

    I'd like to read her book. Years ago, before I became Wiccan, I belonged to a New Thought church. Very nice folks, and I'll still call Silent Unity for some "backup support;" but the way I saw it being practiced was imbalanced. In those days I was dealing with an undiagnosed depression, and at times the combination was was rather hellish. I felt as if I had to keep a rictus grin pasted on my face as I "cheerfully" dealt with my "learning opportunities." I certainly believe wholeheartedly in positive thinking; yet it's essential to address fully those dark places within, otherwise positive thinking becomes just another word for suppression. ~~Anna Helvie

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