Two shopkeepers, each across the street from the other, are discussing how poorly the sales markets have been recently and how their stores have been suffering accordingly. After the first store owner goes through a whole litany of his problems and financial losses, he asks the second store owner: “And how’s your business doing?” “The worst its been in the last 30 years” replies the second man. “Its been that good?” exclaims the first store owner in startled disbelief. Welcome to the world of how negative thinking powers a sense of peacefulness and adds serenity if not huge accomplishments to people’s lives. We’ve all been indoctrinated, or brain-washed if you will, to focus on positive thinking as the ultimate method of achieving success and happiness. But positive thinking can be the ultimate betrayer of one’s hopes and dreams, should they fail to be achieved. Its far more positive to focus on all the negatives that lay in one’s path as a means of anticipating, preparing for, and coping with all the obstacles one will almost certainly face during a lifetime.
The power of negative thinking begins with the belief that the worst possible out-come will occur in any of life’s situations. Your boss will hate your output and you’ll likely get fired; your teen-age daughter who just got her driver’s license and is out driving her car at night for the first time will almost certainly smash into a telephone poll and get herself killed; all your investments will ultimately turn to shit and you’ll be financially ruined, etc. When in almost all cases the worst fails to materialize, the ensuing feelings of relief will be absolutely euphoric. And in those very few cases where the worst does actually occur, at least you will be mentally prepared for the outcome. Which, of course, will likely be of small comfort. As I’m writing this, I’m remembering an event that occurred in my development many years ago. A senior-aged couple had emigrated from South Africa and bought a house in our community. The husband had all their money tied up in investments back in his old country. For some unfortunate political reason, everyone of these investments went belly-up at the same time, and the couple was left virtually penniless. The husband was at home when the bad news came. He called his wife who was out shopping to tell her what had happened, and that he could not live with the shame and grief of losing everything, and was going to kill himself. His wife pleaded and begged him not to do this…. until she heard the gun shot go off. Sometimes no type of thinking can fix an ugly situation.
The contrast between the benefits derived from the power of negative versus positive thinking is no better illustrated than in the just concluded presidential election. Trump employed negative thinking in his march to the White House versus Clinton’s positive thinking in her march to defeat. First, almost all pollsters and political pundits predicted that Clinton would coast to an easy victory while Trump was certain to lose. This led the Clinton camp to run a lackadaisical campaign, believing success was a foregone conclusion. She would barely make one campaign stop a day, if that, and made no stops in some states such as Wisconsin which she lost by a whisker. Positive thinking would lead to over-confidence and ultimately to defeat. Trump, on the other hand, was in a panic of negative thinking since everyone was saying how he would lose. This drove him into a frenzy of campaigning making at least 5 or 6 stops day-in and day-out. The potential shame of coming all this way only to lose at the end was more than his ego could bear. On the Monday night before the election, he made an appearance at one A.M. in Michigan to an estimated crowd of 20 thousand people, while Clinton was home safely in bed. The power of his negative thinking eventually turned the tide of the election in his favor.
A recent movie out, which is sure to be an Academy Award nominee, if not winner, called “Manchester By The Sea” points to an excellent illustration of the tragedy that can occur when the worst scenario is not anticipated. It’s a deeply sad movie about the loss that can result from even the smallest of unanticipated careless acts. A loss from which there is no recovery. A man who is happily married with 2 small children that he lovingly adores, is sitting in front of his fireplace one Saturday night drinking beer, while his wife and children are upstairs asleep. He runs out of beer and decides to walk to a nearby convince store to buy more. Half-way there he can’t remember if he put the fireplace screen back in front of the open fire. He plows on anyhow, but when he returns he finds his house being consumed by a blazing fire. His wife has escaped, but his 2 children are trapped inside and burnt to death. Apparently he had not put the screen back in its place and a flaming log had rolled out onto the floor and caused the fire. It’s a tragic sequence of events that he can never forgive himself for. When his now ex-wife meets him one day, and tearfully tells him she’s willing to forgive and take him back, he runs away saying “there’s nothing left” inside of him. He goes through the rest of his life doing odd-jobs as a handyman, in a zombie-like state. All from the simple failure to foresee the worst possible out-come.
One can hope for the best but should always anticipate the worst. At least that’s my take on what the universe has to offer as as we plow through our time on this planet. Steve Jobs once proclaimed that all our worries can be minimized when we know that death awaits us in the end. That’s generally true-except when the event is the loss of one’s child.