Must Think Happy Thoughts, Inc.

Posted in Census, Culture of Lickspittle, Stumble and Fail at 8:19 am by George Smith

While working the census in Pasadena our crew was given a motivational speech when performance was deemed lagging.

A few days ago, I described like this for el Reg:

This was cause for the delivery of an inspirational speech, the kind used at mass corporate rallies in the US where people pay to be told, by important figures and celebrities, that the only thing standing in the way of success is their bad attitude. If we were not to run with wolves but soar like eagles, we were told, we should separate ourselves from the drag of the complainers and critics.

About a day later, the census began firing what it thought were the complainers and critics, all the non-performers.

The speech was delivered to us as the wisdom of Colin Powell. Whether it was actually all his was hard to know. What’s certain is that it was a grab-bag of quotes attributed to him.

Intelligence-insulting shit, it had nothing to do with the work of being a census enumerator, which was a solitary business.

A sample from the speech:

Never receive counsel from unproductive people.

Never discuss your problems with someone incapable of contributing to the solution, because those who never succeed themselves are always first to tell you how.

Not everyone has a right to speak into your life.

You are certain to get the worst of the bargain when you exchange ideas with the wrong person.

Don’t follow anyone who’s not going anywhere.

With some people you spend an evening: with others you invest it.

Be careful where you stop to inquire for directions along the road of life.

Wise is the person who fortifies his life with the right friendships.

If you run with wolves, you will learn how to howl. But, if you associate with eagles, you will learn how to soar to great heights.

Powell, ever since his epic fail in front of the world at the UN, has made a business of inspirational speaking gigs. He’s a celebrity part of the Must Think Happy Thoughts industry and during the years post his position as Secretary of State he seemed to be on a regular conveyor belt through arenas nationwide and in southern California with the likes of Zig Ziglar.

This nationwide fetish with the idea that positive thinking leads to success in all things and conversely, that critical thinking leads only to failure, is the subject of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America, now in trade paper edition through Picador.

As most observers of the players in the economic collapse now can tell, the book could very well be renamed “How Positive Thinking Undermined America,” past tense. The culture of lickspittle and constant delusional thinking based on only positive reinforcements played its role.

Ehrenreich’s book fully examines this inspirational brainwashing, first taken from the standpoint of its role in the wellness industry. Ehrenreich writes of it from a very up close point-of-view after being diagnosed with cancer. Happy thoughts and positive thinking now being the way in which all patients are counseled or cudgeled into dealing with potentially terminal illness.

Pulling back, the book observes that the practice is used to destroy critical thinking. Or worse and even more commonly, to gin up a labor force or group of employees whose morale has been crushed by bad business and endless rounds of downsizing.

Everyone in corporate America has felt its touch — management using it as a fob for its failures, pushing responsibility off onto employees who don’t have the right positive attitude and who must now change their thinking lest they too be sent into the wilderness.

And it has been coming a good long time, as anyone who has seen scenes from the sports movies can attest. Cue those where the team, slipping on a bad patch, sits in the locker room listening to a seminar for the banishing of contagious loser-ism.

For example, Ehrenreich writes:

Over the past decade, as icebergs sank and levels of debt mounted, dissidents from the prevailing positive thinking consensus were isolated, mocked or urged to overcome their perverse attachment to thoughts. Within the United States, any talk of intractable problems could be dismissed as a denial of American greatness. Any complaints of economic violence could be derided as the whining of “self-selected” victims.

So if Colin Powell actually does believe the slogans and rubbish attributed to him, his now infamous performance before the UN is not the biggest surprise. The good general, perhaps, did not wish to be a whining self-selected victim, excluded from the victory march toward Iraq.

And it underlines how, at the highest national level, unwarranted attitude modification and culture of lickspittle had disastrous consequences.

One might almost think that the current national economic crisis must lead to a modification in attitudes toward the religion of “positive-thinking.”

This is not the case. Ehrenreich devotes time to explaining how Must Think Happy Thoughts, Inc. is a business partially built upon salesmanship into corporate management. It is there where profit lies, in the mass sale of books and speeches for delivery to the listless and despondent employees. There are, it seems, even a handful of “scientists” pushing it.

From this blog in 2008, on the sale of cheap harmonicas and books on how-to-toot-your-way-out-of-unproductiveness into corporate American boardrooms:

[Another reason] for the Mojo Deluxe … made-in-China harmonica is so that it can be packaged with a lot of other stuff suitable for corporate seminar in the US of A.

The author of of “Instant Blues Harmonica” writes on his very last page in the very last paragraph: “[For] the last few years I’ve been doing most of my presentations for corporate non-profit organizations. These clients range from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream to Merck Pharmaceutical, from the Blue Cross to Red Cross, from Kraft Foods to the American Society of Forensic Laboratory Directors. My unique keynotes and workshops can help your group to work more effectively…”

The image of a roomful of managers from Kraft Foods or directors from the American Society of Forensic Laboratories learning to “blow their blues away” on Chinese harmonicas during a compulsory leadership get-together is a shattering one.

At the risk of sounding too positive, DD heartily recommends Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided.


  1. Dick Destiny » Bright-sided twittering said,

    March 17, 2011 at 9:04 am

    […] From a bit review of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided here. […]

  2. Dick Destiny » Views to die for said,

    May 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    […] “You are certain to get the worst of the bargain when you exchange ideas with the wrong person,” said Powell at some motivational seminar after his rep was trashed. […]