Johnny Townsend: Nobody wants to read ‘The Power of Positive Giving Up’

(Courtesy of Religion News Service) Norman Vincent Peale was a Christian preacher and author, most notably of "The Power of Positive Thinking."

Corporate and business leaders insist that to be successful, we must be positive. We’re encouraged to read books on “The Power of Positive Thinking,” “The Magic of Thinking Big” and “The Secret.”

If we have doubts about a project, we’re scolded for our weakness and bad attitude. If we fail to plan, we plan to fail. We can’t win unless we play. We’re told to make it happen, do more with less, that the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity is our attitude toward it.

And yet these “leaders” are the first to say, “Medicare for All? Tuition-free college? Guaranteed childcare? A Green New Deal? You’re asking the impossible! Be realistic!”

Managers tell their employees that only the insecure blame others for their personal failures. We need to take responsibility for our lack of success, they say, accept ownership and do better. But pro-corporate Democrats routinely blame progressives when their lackluster moderate candidates lose.

During my seven years at a credit union, one of the other employees made the same proclamation every morning: “It’s the best day ever!” Other employees marveled at his good attitude. The supervisor praised him for thinking like a winner. But you can’t honestly have a better day every single day of your life. If things are going great on your 23rd birthday, what happens 20,000 days later? Will you have $60 billion, a perfect body and the serenity of Buddha?

It’s OK to have a bad day and to say so. It’s OK to be realistic.

But to claim that the programs we need are “too big to succeed” just means they aren’t banks and auto manufacturers.

If my coworker at the credit union had told our supervisor, “I’m not even going to try eliminating discrimination in the loan process. People just aren’t capable of that level of decency,” would the supervisor have praised him for his cannot-do attitude?

Having a positive attitude toward accepting injustice is to have a negative attitude toward creating it. Having a positive attitude toward the wealthiest 1% is to have a negative attitude toward 99% of humanity.

One of the teachers at my Baptist high school quoted scripture regularly. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” he told the class one day.

“I can pass Algebra?” I asked.

“All things.”

“I can win the Olympics?” asked another student.

“All things.”

“I can jump to the moon and back?”

I wished I’d been the one to ask that. I’d certainly been thinking it.

“You have a really bad attitude, young man. You need to stop listening to Satan.”

Moderate Democrats insist we nominate bland candidates who won’t offend Republicans. I can’t think of a worse “winning” attitude. I’ve read “The Secret.” Nowhere does it advise aiming low and settling for only the smallest of dreams.

When I volunteered as a Mormon missionary in Rome, one of my mission leaders promised, “If you have faith even as small as a grain of mustard seed, you can baptize 40 people a month, 100 people. Every single one of you. If you have faith.”

With my bad attitude, and because I did pass my math classes, I made some quick calculations. With 120 missionaries in Rome, we’d be converting 12,000 Catholics a month, 144,000 a year, 288,000 by the end of our two years in Italy. As there were four missions in the country at the time, that would mean 1,152,000 converts by the time we left.

A core principle of capitalism is eternal growth, higher sales every month, indefinitely. “We had the best quarter ever.”

Yes, some things are impossible. Other things that seem impossible are just hard.

For years, running a four-minute mile seemed a physiologically unattainable goal. Then someone did it. And thousands more runners have since beaten his time.

Other countries have already achieved universal health care. Other countries have already established tuition-free college, guaranteed childcare and free public transportation.

When a job applicant tells us, “I simply can’t do what your job description says, and I won’t waste my time trying. When do I start?” we know not to hire that person.

And when the job is mayor, or city council member, or senator, or representative, or president, we don’t need a job applicant whose lifelong dream is to write the worst-seller “The Power of Positive Giving Up.”

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend, Seattle, is the author of, “Breaking the Promise of the Promised Land,” “Human Compassion for Beginners” and “Am I My Planet’s Keeper?”