Socially Responsible Magic: The Power and Peril of Positive Thinking, Part 3

Socially Responsible Magic: The Power and Peril of Positive Thinking, Part 3 December 24, 2014

In my first post on positive thinking, I explained some of the perils of positive thinking: how it can lead to a lack of empathy and awareness about racial and class issues, as well as a solipsistic belief that what you think is what you attract to your life. In my second post, I explained how positive thinking could be a useful tool when combined with others.  In this final post, we’ll explore how to implement positive thinking and still stay grounded in the realities of life.

Implementing positive thinking involves recognizing how you’ll apply it to the situations you are in. You don’t want to be overly optimistic, with a pollyanna view of life, but if you recognize that positive thinking can help you find the silver lining in any situation and keep you open to possibilities, then it can serve a practical purpose. The key to staying grounded in positive thinking, as it applies to your situation, is to recognize the situation for what it is. Don’t go into a situation with the idea that you can just think it better with positive thoughts. Recognize the situation, whatever it is, and your role in it. Then ask yourself what you want to get out of the situation. What actions will you take to achieve that result? What do you need to do to keep yourself open to opportunity? What can you learn from the situation? These questions are positive questions that help you focus on what you can turn the situation onto.

Positive thinking becomes practical when we focus on applying it to our own situations. It’s important to remember that we can’t apply it to other peoples’ situations without their permission. The last thing someone wants is unsolicited advice. Often times when a person goes to offer advice to someone else, all it emphasizes is the negative of the situation because the person dealing with it doesn’t need advice. What they need is someone who can acknowledge where they are at and what they are dealing with. They need someone who can be present with them, without judgment and without trying to make things better. If the person wants advice, they’ll ask, but until that happens, no such advice should be offered.

It’s also important to recognize that others’ situations have their own variables, some of which you may have no experience with. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to understand the person’s situation. If anything, it’s a call to try to understand it. And positive thinking can actually be applied toward that goal, but not in the way you might think. The way you apply positive thinking to a situation where you don’t understand everything the other person is dealing with involves recognizing your lack of understanding and your desire to understand. You also recognize you may not ever fully understand the person or their situation. Nonetheless, you can look for resources to help you broaden your horizons and gain some understanding. That’s where positive thinking comes into play. You recognize your ignorance and choose to make the effort to learn so that you can hold space with the person and their situation. So how is that using positive thinking? You use positive thinking to see what you need to learn, to see the possibility. Instead of focusing on what you don’t know as a negative, you recognize it as an opportunity to grow and to connect with other people more meaningfully.

Positive thinking won’t solve all your problems. In fact, it won’t solve any of them. What it teaches you to do is look at your problems differently. When used right, positive thinking can actually teach you flexibility in how you think about and resolve a situation. You just need to make sure that you aren’t buying into the pie-in-the sky-version of positive thinking. While your thoughts do have power and how you think about a situation can affect what you get out of it, its also important to remember that thoughts alone won’t attract change. Stay grounded and recognize what’s happening so that you can adjust to the situations in your life and learn more about other people and their experiences.

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