Perils of Divorced Pauline

The Names Have Been Changed, But the Story Is True


April 05
World-class gnarly divorce survivor. Custody Battle blogger with a sense of humor. Mom. Wife. Cat-Lover. Visit me at or on Twitter @divorcedpauline.


Editor’s Pick
APRIL 23, 2012 9:39AM

Is Positive Thinking the Opiate of the People?

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positive thinking


When Hilary Rosen uttered The Remark and the politics-fueled Mommy Wars absurdity ensued, I got mired in a comment thread on a popular blog site. The blogger was of the opinion that Rosen was biased against SAHMs and wrote a post calling for the end of the Mommy Wars.

The post set off an avalanche of comments. Most commenters believed that Rosen was anti-SAHM and saw Ann Romney as a victimized role model for mothers who raise kids full-time.

A minority of commenters, of which I was one, believed that the Mommy Wars debate was a smoke screen for the more pressing issue of Privilege, and how those who lack it are hindered, whether or not they stay home to raise children.

Some of the moms who weighed in were inspired by the Romneys and felt that they were proof that those who worked hard would inevitably be rewarded with financial gain.

One mom, "Stella," explained that she had started a work-at-home business in order to become a "job creator," because, she said, "when was the last time a poor person offered you a job?"

I became fascinated by Stella as she fired off comment after comment. How many people can ask "when was the last time a poor person offered you a job?" without a shred of irony or acknowledgment of the lack of Privilege that leads people who sell strawberries on the road side to be unable to offer steady employment with a nice benefits package?

Each of Stella's comments was like a puzzle piece, and when I put them all together this is what emerged:

Stella was a single mom of four children. Her ex had limited involvement in her kids' lives. She was a disciple of a how-to-get-rich guru -- let's call him Richie -- who sells books, DVDs, audiotapes, and seminar packages to people who want to be just like him.

Stella was convinced she would hit the money-lode any day and she used the comment thread for what appeared to be a pyramid scheme, peddling Richie's videos. She was almost evangelical in her insistence that these videos would teach others how to be business dynamos and lead the life of their dreams.

Because that's what Richie promised.

There are many Richies out there. Some of them offer sound business advice that also incorporates living a life of integrity. Some of them are snake oil salesmen. Richie, in my opinion, is one of the latter.

Regardless of their integrity or lack thereof, motivational gurus are charismatic figures who have an endless supply of betterment products -- books and tapes and seminars and day planners and vitamin water and God knows what else -- that do create wealth.

For the gurus.

And while a minority of their disciples might become successful putting their principles into practice, most will not. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his brilliant book Outliers, other factors such as luck, timing and possessing a very particular set of characteristics that a chosen career requires, have always diluted the hard-work-eventually-leads-to-success formula. Without these factors, hard workers will never strike gold.

What was possible after World War II was that middle-class people could work themselves into nice homes, nice cars, family vacations, and ultimately, comfortable retirement. They could do this because they could stay in jobs for thirty years and collect pensions. Houses were affordable. The tax system was far more equitable than it is today.

But the era of the contented middle-class worker is gone. Poof! It is a quaint, sepia-toned memory. Unless a miraculous sea change occurs -- for example, Warren Buffet's proposal for tax reform goes into effect, more billionaires bequeath their fortunes to organizations that benefit all of us, the defense budget is slashed and funds are diverted into education, social services, and universal healthcare  -- middle-class people will be working till they drop.

And single mothers like Stella, who lack education and an influential social network, will face even grimmer prospects.

Which is why I believe Stella took to the Mommy Blogs to hawk Richie's wares. Confronting her reality is a downer. Fantasizing about hobnobbing with Ann Romney is an upper.

The inimitable social thinker Barbara Ehrenreich believes that the culture of positive thinking has actually contributed to the country's financial collapse. How?  By convincing those who have been screwed over by corporate America to support policies that only benefit the 1%.

I was amazed that Stella, and many other commenters, felt protective of the Romneys and insisted that Mitt was a "job creator," despite staggering evidence to the contrary.

Ehrenreich would say that middle-class people like Stella unwittingly contribute to the class divide because they believe they can positive-think themselves into the 1%. And when they think this way they vote for politicians who are going to create policies that will further reduce their opportunities.

I'm not advocating pessimism. Relentless negative thoughts drag us down and sap us of the energy required to make the most of our situation. Judicious escapism serves a need. As much as I love Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman for his spot-on economic forecasts, for instance, I sometimes feel like sticking my head in the oven midway through his columns.

But back to Stella -- and all women concerned with reduced options, whether their own or the options of others. You say you want to end the Mommy Wars? Join Unite Against the War on Women.

Founded by two women who got mad as hell with the abuse of privilege undermining women -- and men -- in this country, Unite Against the War on Women seeks to defend human rights.

How do they do this, exactly? By using social media to educate women about politicians' policies. By creating online auctions to raise money to keep budget-slashed rape crisis centers afloat. And by spearheading a nationwide rally on April 28th to urge legislators to create policies that support human rights -- equal pay, reproductive rights, access to healthcare -- instead of dismantle them. Click here to find a rally in your area.

I don't know if the rally, or the organization, will change anything. It certainly won't make anyone rich. But it's a step in the right direction. The very fact that in only two months time, two frustrated women have spawned a nationwide grass roots human rights campaign is remarkable.

It is the result of true positive thinking -- the kind that ignites people instead of numbing them to their circumstances.




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I agree with you. These pyramid sceme gurus are snake oil salesmen 99% of the time, in my view. Positive thinking can be a panacea, a way to divert attention from the very real problems in our society that do, the solutions of which do NOT rely exclusively on positive thinking. One of my main social concerns is the working poor and the severe problems they face.
You made a good distinction between two varieties of positive thinking. huzzahs to you. R
Very interesting. Most "postitive thinking" strikes me as a fascism of sorts. Shut down reality and common sense in favor of being blissful with the status quo. Very good and important points, by Ehrenreich. Just the overuse of dumb words like "positivity" and "negativity"are dangerous. Anyone who states some reality is labeled some debbie downer. There must be some balance and some gray area between being a negative creep and a rightfully disgruntled citizen.
Ρauline,I couldn't agree more.As with anxiety..There is good anxiety the one that motivates us to work and the other that makes as numb...This is the case with ρositive thinking...There is a ρositive that makes you work in making life a better ρlace to be and there is the dreamy ρositive thinking that makes no good although the ρositiveness.Excellent work here...Insightfull on a very comρlex issue.And you are absolutely right on your thinking "It is the result of true positive thinking -- the kind that ignites people instead of numbing them to their circumstances".Rated with thank you for sharing..
Pauline, you're singing my song. I am an unfortunate daughter of Amway. My parents let themselves be sucked in when I was in junior high. Dreaming of riches while lining someone else's pocket above them in the pyramid. The persuasive speakers, the dynamic, loud, endless conferences when people preached personal wealth--they bought it all. They also spent a lot of time, and we essentially stopped taking vacations as a family... and then high school came, and then we were gone. My mom profoundly regrets it now, and no, they never made a dime from Amway.

All that dreaming is powerful stuff, and it obscures what we need to see right in front of us--our real finances, our families, our childen's hopes to get an education.
The "power of positive thinking" is simple, black and white. Your argument is complex and difficult. It's almost what the difference between conservative and liberal has been reduced to now.

What was possible after World War II was that middle-class people could work themselves into nice homes, nice cars, family vacations, and ultimately, comfortable retirement. They could do this because they could stay in jobs for thirty years and collect pensions. Houses were affordable. The tax system was far more equitable than it is today. Why is this argument not repeated more often? I have never once heard it argued in association with the power and strength of the economy then.
Opiate of the Masses. Yes, Kind of like a religion. Great Post!
Very good post. Almost addictive.
I admit that I have terrible low self-esteem problems - well, I should, I'm a jerk - and have listened to a great many of these self-help gurus. They don't really help, because they pretend that you don't have to do the work yourself; you just have to listen to them and believe.

It has taken me a great deal of effort and self-examination to get even the minimal self-esteem I currently have. You have to do the work. One of the better self-help CD's I have identified these hucksters by the best-selling made-up title, "Lose Weight And Grow Rich While You Sleep."

Well, it looks like the whole nation is sleeping. And everybody's still grossly overweight and poor.
"Thinking" is a political word as used here: What the Stellas acquire is the belief inDESTINY wherever it comes from: "guru", priest, website, school ect. When Mitt Romney says "Its my turn...", that's a dog whistle.
Positive thinking is only one type of thought and it is clearly identifiable.

Too many people (rather conveniently) mistake self delusion, magical thinking, bad judgement, self justification, hype, manipulation and other thought processes for true positive thinking.

The hyped up salesman and the pumped up motivational speaker use something else to work their audiences.

So the answer is no. Positive thinking works to cancel irrational negative thinking or external influence. The positive thought form helps people to not give up when there is discouragement, distraction, fretting, blocking or hard times.

Positive thinking is an internal process that cannot cause changes in the real world.

There is no magic working here, but a practiced person can keep dysfunctional and negative urges from controlling their lives. In this way, special things appear to be happening, but it is simply that a human got better at clearing up their own internal problems and focused on making them happen.

The opiate thought forms are obvious and identifiable. They are quite different from a positive mindset and they can cause different moods and behaviors. Meditation is an opiate thought form.

Great post, topic and EP!
But, I just want to win. Is that wrong?
Positive Thinking is only one lens via which we try to understand and navigate the world and its phenomena. It can be very effective -- but only when we understand its application and limitations.

When we expect Positive Thinking to supply the answer to absolutely everything, however, we are possessed by a kind of strict Fundamentalism.
You may have been among a minority of commenters but your thoughts on the mommy wars had been dinner table conversation here. Virtually everything Romney is smoke screen.
My friend nerd cred hit the nail right on the head. The simplistic belief that hard work will equal fame and fortune doesn't require much thought. That's why those who buy into it are so gullible they will actually vote for policies that will prove to be their undoing. And they hate those of us who think for obscuring their hopeful path.
Excellent post, Pauline.
Once again, Pauline, you hit a nerve here. I am flabbergasted, as I watch people I know support policies of "personal responsibility" and "hard work", such as the privatization of the retirement system, when those same systems have been the cause of their own financial undoing.
Depends on the venue, Pauline. When I'm standing outside allowing my spirit to mingle with nature and the weather is nice and I have a couple of hours without a damned thing to do and I don't think too much, I allow myself to feel good. Dunno if that's positive thinking or simply the absence of negative thinking. It may be a form of exclusionary thinking because if I thought about it, I would know that there are critters within range of my scent that would love to dine on my flesh and juices and that there are bureaucrats at the local, state and federal level who would like their share of my flesh no matter what were to become of me and I would know that even if all of those predators were not circling around seeking me out the Grim Reaper is leaning on his scythe, grinning and waiting ever so patiently (I hope), and perhaps not thinking about all this ills martialed against is a form of denial or postponement of contemplation, but that's OK with me. One of my favorite expressions has been and probly always will be "Let's cross that bridge when we get to it."

As to demonstrations and marches and petitions and other forms of protest, I'm not one to get too excited about personally participating. For one thing I've lost the fire of youth needed to work up the energy to get involved in something I know pretty well will lead to naught. I took some encouragement last year in the OWS demonstrations throughout the land because I think they woke up a segment of our population that had been, if not asleep then pleasantly deluded and it raised and merged the economic consciousnesses of a large swath of demographic that ordinarily wouldn't "do lunch" together, i.e. from Tea Party to no party, to see thru the shuck and recognize the ugly reality of the oligarchy that makes us all dance to its tune. And any optimism I take from that is more of a hope we voters will send a message to the oligarchists in November that the worst of their sponsored minions will get their butts kicked. What good that would do is probly barely more than esthetic, but watching an oligarchist frown would kinda make my day, ya know?
Thank you all for your comments. I just wanted to clarify that I am not pooh-poohing the benefits of optimism, or being positive and upbeat, or mindfulness, or gratitude. I do think having a positive frame of mind helps with pretty much anything. But I do think the Culture of Positive Thinking can be dangerous and its pervasiveness has me terrified that Romney will end up running this country...into the ground.
I am so sick of pyramid schemes disguised as multi-level marketing. Ugh! I've been a full-time working mom and a stay-at-home mom. Both have their benefits and downsides.
Thank you - for this very intelligent article, for another pleasant and enriching reading experience, and for spreading the word about Unite Against the War on Women. I hadn't heard about them and I am definitely going to check them out!

As for Ehrenreich's theory, man have I seen people behave like this, time and again.
Oh, this is GOOD. Spreading this out to others I know who have been floored by recent events...
I'm not buying into dividing America into the 1 vs. the 99%. We all embraced John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline, both born with silver spoons and born of privilege. You write thru a private prism of your own marriage, divorce and guilt. American do not embrace this great divide, we embrace those who work hard and succeed. We are a country of moving upward, not pushing everyone around us down.
The old bake cookies or work, they used it against Hilary and they are using it again, and we are stupidly falling for it. I refuse to be part of that conversation anymore. Lets protect our health and strive for more equal insurance coverage of the hormones we need for whatever our doctors deem and the right to safe and available medical procedures whenever we need to access them.
I, too, am wary of the "positive think" gurus, which include preachers like Creflo Dollar who says that God will bring you riches. I am over-simplifying here, but you get my point. Good post.
I have a friend who argues that marketing is the downfall of America and certainly calling businesses "job creators" is a marketing slogan for pro-business policies. I mean, when did you last work for an unincorporated entity? In high school as a baby sitter? How much did that pay? So, logically, we should do everything to support corporations, not people, right? Job will trickle down.

The problem facing middle class America is not the tax system, but the lack of good jobs with good salaries. There's plenty to fix with our current tax system, but comparing tax systems over time is hard, because we have such a convoluted system of deductions, exemptions, and oddball classifications that the rates don't mean much. Currently, the top tax rate is 35%, but Mitt Romney paid around 15% on his income. Comparing today's 35% to some past rate which was much higher, with more generous deductions tells you little about how what percentage today's or past multimillionaires actually pay.
Deborah, that you have to go so far back into history to find this comparison should tell you something. Yes, they were wealthy. But, at that time, the economy and the ability to live the quintessential American dream was possible, well, for white people anyway. Now, it's simply not like that. It's a false comparison. There is vast evidence that these people are NOT 'job creators.' Instead, they are greedy and relying on the rubes of the world to buy what they are selling, which is the this 'rich through association.' Personally, I don't get it. What leaps of logic must one make to believe that they deserve more tax cuts and fewer regulations when those things actually created the crisis from which we are trying to extract ourselves?
But would you prefer negative thinking pushed to its logical conclusion, because I know what that is: weapons, gold, and food and water.

Are you suggesting that people were better off in the 1960s than today? If yes, the economic data does not support your theory of decline. Simply stated, our economy has grown dramatically over the last 50 years and with that growth the average household is far better off than in the past. Even more ridiculous is the suggestion that there was less racism in the 1960s than there is today. I’d love to continue the attack on your false comparisons as it relates to tax policy and regulations but what would be the point if you can’t understand the simple stuff first?
Capitalism - and all that that entails - has always been this country's unquestioned and vaunted religion. But we have no more hope of giving that up than ancient Rome did of giving up on her belief in military power. It's not a matter of education - the truth is already known - it's a matter of having good faith.

There really are no such things as positive and negative thoughts, just honest and dishonest ones. And the truth is never negative.
Yes...on all points made. I think the Rosen story was over-blown. Mommy wars, really? Though the way she said it may have been impolitic, it was clear to me what she was saying. Most women today don't have to grapple with the choice. They simply must work to keep the family afloat, and many of those who do have the choice must cut back and do without to make it work. As a member of the privaleged class, Anne Romney cannot relate to most of us and therefore must tread carefully when trying to *identify* with the masses. No amount of "positive thinking" will get you a house with an elevator for your cars.
"If you want to get rich, work hard"? Yeah, sure, then go join the migrant workers picking fruit in the fields. Let me know when you get rich!
I have also, sadly, given my self and my dollars over several times to those get-rich gurus, multi-level marketing their books, cd's, or software. I'm still not rich, but they are. There's no fool...
Fantastic article. Read it twice, and still feels like there's more to take away from it. Rated.
I think you're on to something at the public / political level Pauline. Let's not forget where the phrase, if not the practice, comes from: Rev. Norman Vincent Peale's super-best-selling book "The Power of Positive Thinking." On the personal side, it has some interesting insights. The guy worked with psychiatrists (both Jungian and Freudian). I don't condemn the practice (for merely because of its religious roots. It's comparable in some ways to the AA phenomenon. Millions of people over the years have claimed to have overcome all sorts of personal difficulties by reading it. There's no arguing with such testimony.

But the every social movement or phenomenon erodes with time. I think the phrase "positive thinking" is little more than that now -- a catch phrase that people use to browbeat critical thinkers, outliers, rebels, and their ilk. Kind of like saying "Jesus loves you" and expecting it to mean something to the person being addressed.
there can be a subtle difference between "positive thinking" and "magical thinking". search on the latter for much psychological insight. both have to be differentiated from propaganda [much in the form of advertising] which is the source of much distortion.
can you state what SAHM is at the beginning of your essay without assuming the reader knows?
can you state what SAHM is at the beginning of your essay without assuming the reader knows?
I do'nt know what SAHM is either, but your essay caused a good discussion over dinner with husband tonight. I have read all of Ehrenreich's books as well as other books on happiness. Someone I think Lincoln said there is a difference between happiness and contentment. I also see a difference between positive thinking and happiness and contentment. One can have a positive outlook even in the darkest of times. But like that old joke, there isn't always a "pony in there." Sometimes its just a big pile of elephant do-do next to the circus tent. Great post. RRRRRR
Frankly, much of the BS that passes for wisdom in the field of business is in the same rut. "Think outside the box. Who stole the cheese" I could go on, but I'd get nauseous. All of this power of positive stinking is brought to you by the 1%, who want you to believe this crap.
I have read stories about how people have started businesses with little else but faith -- somehow having a well thought out business plan wasn't part of the process. In my home town, there is a large evangelical church that is abandoned -- they built it, and somehow believed that the bills would get paid. On the other hand, I know a man, a homeless advocate, who had a lot of opposition to the center for the homeless that he was running. The local merchants didn't like what he was doing, and his funding was lost. However, he didn't give up, forged a myriad of new social resources, and now is creating jobs for homeless people, with no public funding. He has a kind of optimism that can win over anyone.
I was once attacked here on OS for daring to suggest The Secret was exactly the kind of scam you're talking about. Cruel it may be to say, but these things depend on two things for their success: Greed and ignorance -- or at least lack of critical thinking skills.

A recent episode of American Greed exposed a multi-million dollar scam that promised people a return of 10% a month -- not a year, a month. Even Bernie Madoff wasn't that audacious. Anyone who believes it's possible to return 10% a month on any investment (with the possible exception of congressional bribes) is a lamb waiting to be slaughtered.
As for Rosen's sin of stating the truth in a politically awkward manner, the feigned outrage that followed is proof enough of the insincerity of the privileged Right. Problem is that the same people who can't see through The Secret can't see through the Republicans -- even now that they've become so emboldened as to make public their plan to install the New Feudalism in America. I call it Futilism.

As to why they are succeeding, I give you this exchange I had another post:

Commenter One: [This is the] second post I'm mentioning this on... Ann and Mitt were not rich when they had their kids. Mitt did not make his fortune until 16 years after their first kid was born. They lived in a shitty apartment for their first child, and while their situation may not be as bad as many others, I don't think it was what others are claiming it be. Again, not a supporter of the guy, just get irritated with the crap on both sides.

[H]onestly, democrats are not making themselves look good with a lack of research on the issue and just spouting privilege. I'm in the middle, Libertarian... but I've seen more crap from Democrats than Republicans as far as personal attacks. No clue what that is about.

My reply: Yeah, the Romneys were just a couple of struggling newlyweds, living hand to mouth just like the rest of us. That certainly is what you're trying to insinuate, and that is simply ludicrous. Read their bios before you make such a foolish claim.

Mitt is the son of the former Governor of Michigan, and the millionaire CEO of American Motors, who was himself a candidate for President -- until he fessed up to being brainwashed about the Vietnam War. Ironically, under Nixon his dad headed HUD, the same dept Mitt wants to eliminate. Say, is there a little Oedipal thing going on here? Shades of Bush the Least. God help us!

For the record, Mitt attended Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, a private boys preparatory school. His childhood sweetheart, Ann Davies, attended the private Kingswood School, the sister school to Cranbrook. Those of us from Michigan know that Bloomfield Hills and private schools ARE NOT the realm of the struggling young people, as you're trying to suggest.

Yes, their son Tagg was born while they were living in a basement apt while attending BYU, but that's about the only truth in the "log-cabin" legend you're trying to foist off on us. Mitt also earned a JD from Harvard, as well as an MBA -- just like Bush the Least. God help us on that score, too.

Commenter Two: Good points, [addressing Commenter One]. It's why I despise American politics. Romney and others like him shouldn't ever have to apologize for being an affluent and diversely wealthy family formulated from humble beginnings...this is why America is known by the global community as the land of opportunity. When people stop, act and think responsibly, they just might realize that they can also be opportunists.

My reply: Either you're joking or you're foolish. Celebrating opportunists? I'll grant you, it's the American Way -- but extolling it as a virtue? Well, I guess that goes with wingnuttery in general. For the record, here's the definition of an opportunist:

"A person who exploits circumstances to gain immediate advantage rather than being guided by principles or plans."

I'd say that's Mittmormon in a wingnutshell.

That one of these dullards imagines a prep school upbringing left Ann and Mitt familiar with the difficulties faced by ordinary Americans, and that the other dullard imagines opportunists make America great, explains a great deal about the outcome of our elections since 1980.

Indeed, the greatest shine job in the history of this country was Reagan polishing a turd and calling it Morning in America. Alas, when the rains came, the turd was exposed, and we had Mourning in America.
Interesting read here...I like what zuma says : )

SAHM -- stay at home mothers

To be fair, even in The Secret the panel states that positive thinking without you making actions that begin to align yourself to your visions is foolish and not what they mean. It all seems like goal-setting with new wording really, but somewhere along the line, certain agendas left out the crucial step of action toward those visions or goals...
Mindless positive thinking and mindless negative thinking both suck. Real thinking can be positive or negative but, mostly, has to be unafraid of dealing with reality. I like balancing the good and the bad of it, realizing that every choise, I give up other options. The psyche has an economy, too. It's about trade-offs and balance, shades of gray, not absolutes.
OHMYGODZ, it's not just Ayn Rand who has infected American thinking, but Shirley MacLean! "You create your own reality". So if you're poor, or get cancer, it's your own fault (and don't expect any help...oh, okay, we'll send you some good vibes).
Reality is indeed a downer. It's easier to believe that if you have the right attitude and work hard enough, you can hit it big. The US is full of hard working ditch diggers with a good attitude. Same for tomato pickers and day care workers. Ain't none of them hitting it big.