Pilot Guest Editorial

Thursday, January 23, 2003

How positive is too positive?

Be it resolved...

A week into 2003, I overheard my friend exhort his dinner companion to "Keep your New Year's resolution, my dear."

I couldn't help myself. "What is your resolution?" I asked the woman, 99 percent certain it had to do with dieting, since that's always my resolution. Scowling, the lady replied: "I promised to not be negative."

What? No putting down the neighbors? No talking stink about politicians? No complaining about the job? For the rest of the evening the woman struggled to be relentlessly upbeat. We hardly had anything to say to one another.

My mother always said, "If you can't say something nice about somebody, don't say anything at all." In practice, I've leaned more toward the sentiment embroidered on a pillow owned by the late Washington, D.C., hostess Alice Roosevelt Longworth: "If you can't say anything good about someone, sit right here by me."

Nonetheless, the idea of not being negative struck a chord in me. What if we got up in the morning and behaved like the dog, full of positive energy and wet kisses for everyone, quivering in uncontrolled eagerness to greet the day? We'd know our territorial boundaries, be loyal and obedient, and count ourselves content with a bone.

Think what would happen to Congress if it jettisoned negativism. There'd be no more name-calling, arm-twisting or behind-closed-doors politics. Bills could be praised instead of criticized, laws would spring from congenial compromise and presidential candidates of opposing parties would make nice.

Being positive in an airport security line would eliminate four-letter-word mumblings, exaggerated exhaling when ordered to "spread 'em," and exasperated complaints about triple-layer bureaucracy. We'd thank the screener for dumping the contents of our carry-on bag for all to see.

If we were positive thinkers we wouldn't need newspaper editorials or letters to the editor in the Pilot-Tribune, talk radio or reality television - how could we vote somebody off an island? There'd be no need for priests or preachers and we'd deep-six the clamor for a nuclear missile shield because we'd live by the Golden Rule. That would allow us to spend more money on education, prescription drugs, health care and social security.

If President Bush made a New Year's resolution to not be negative, would that keep us out of a war even the generals don't want? Would that mean the United Nations inspectors would be given more time to properly do their job in Iraq? Would Secretary of State Colin Powell be allowed to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis with North Korea? Would Saddam Hussein be offered a face-saving exit that could bring 200,000 American servicemen and women home safe to their loved ones?

Setting aside its religious dogma, "The Power of Positive Thinking" is still a pretty good book. Written by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, it urges readers to rise above problems by visualizing how to solve them. Its basic premise is that positive thoughts lead to positive acts, which in turn banish self-doubt. What could be more positive than promoting world peace and preventing armed conflict?

Even though Dr. Peale's book has sold more than 20 million copies in 42 languages since it was published in 1952, it's possible that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell - perhaps even the president - have not read it.

Excuse me while I log on to Amazon.com to buy copies for them.

Tad Bartimus is a former newspaper reporter, now a book author, and contributor to the Pilot-Tribune.