From the moment Barbara Ehrenreich stepped onto the stage for tonight’s dinner address, she had the audience cracking up. Her speech protesting positive psychology-well, it was positively striking.03.19.2010 Posted In: NETWORKER EXCHANGE By Psychotherapy Networker
She provided incredibly interesting research and personal background to frame her relationship to the subject. Her awareness of positive thinking (or at least her complaints with it) began when she had breast cancer and was told that in order to recover, she would have to change her attitude. As a PhD in cellular biology, she took issue with this.
Positive thinking is the idea that you can have what you want if you bring it to you in your thoughts, she said. However, even though she is against positive psychology, “It’s not like I’m against having a good day!” Ehrenreich said, “I go after the American ideology of positive thinking, that you have to be optimistic, upbeat and cheerful and that if you’re not that way, you damn well better get that way!”
She said that when she had cancer, she reached out for sisterhood and support. Instead, she received pink ribbons, teddy bears and a warning to start thinking more positively.
“I realized I wasn’t afraid to die, but I was afraid to die with a pink teddy bear clutched under my arm,” she said, “I did not feel grateful, and started to think, ‘if you think cancer is a gift, take me off your Christmas list!”
Upon being told that a positive attitude will help a person beat cancer, she extensively research and found no evidence that positive people are more likely to survive cancer—or anything else. For example, the women’s movement wouldn’t have occurred: “If we’d all subscribed to positive thinking; if we’d said, ‘don’t complain, see the bright side’…instead, we talked, we listened, we figured out what we had to do to fix things.”
But, “the alternative to positive thinking is not negative thinking. That can be just as delusional,” she said. “The solution is realism.”
Ehrenreich said that our Founding Fathers took a huge risk when signing the Declaration of Independence, everything pointed toward failure. But it’s not that they subscribed to positive thinking and willed success to happen. “It’s not positive thinking. It’s courage,” she said.
Her speech was hilarious and genuine, inspirational and basically phenomenal.
If you got the chance to hear her speak—what did you think?