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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Blog Assignment #3, 2011

Please post a paragraph-long question or comment in response to the reading (Barbara Ehrenreich’s "Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America") for Wednesday's class by noon on February 16th.

7 comments:

  1. I cannot even begin to express how much I enjoyed this reading. Not only do I feel that Ehrenreich's writing style is brilliant (I was thoroughly engaged and read much of the reading aloud), but I was definitely impressed by the arguments she brought forth. Living in this country, I had never stepped back far enough to analyze the ways in which society expects and encourages us to think. Had I not come into contact with this particular reading, I may have continued onward with the ingrained ideology that positive thinking is a must for a healthy, happy life - and that a "happy" life is the ultimate goal. Reading this, however, has made me wonder whether it is possible to even exist in the U.S. without subscribing to that sort of philosophy. How can one survive (much less thrive) in such a social environment without practicing positive thinking? How would an individual's life ultimately be affected if they refused to continue to answer every how-do-you-do with upbeat, positive replies? Inevitably there would be backlash against anyone who chose to truthfully express discontent and negative thinking - would it be too much for one individual to bear?

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  2. In her chapter about her struggle with breast cancer and the positive thinking that surrounds it, Ehrenreich briefly mentions the higher rates of breast cancer in industrialized countries. Though she doesn’t discuss the possible causes of breast cancer in detail, it is their hidden nature that she repeatedly protests against as when she writes: “In the mainstream of breast cancer culture, there is very little anger, no mention of possible environmental causes, and few comments about the fact that, in all but the more advanced, metastasized cases, it is the ‘treatments,’ not the disease, that cause the immediate illness and pain” (26). She reiterates the connection between our society’s focus on positive thinking and a passive acceptance of things as they appear to be at the end of the chapter.

    Reading Ehrenreich made me think that one of the reasons poor neighborhoods like the N. Limestone neighborhood exist is because America doesn’t want to look at anything that doesn’t fit its ideology of “positive thinking.” To focus on the existence of N. Limestone would be to admit either that positive thinking doesn’t work or that there are many people in this country who are not interested in it. Both of these possibilities would severely undermine the magic of positive thinking. Both of them might then force us to consider the reasons, other than deficient positive thinking, why such neighborhoods exist.

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  3. My question is quite similar to Katie’s. On p.41 Ehrenreich writes: “But rather than providing emotional sustenance, the sugarcoating of cancer can exact a dreadful cost. First, it requires the denial of understandable feelings of anger and fear, all of which must be buried under a cosmetic layer of cheer.” The implicit claim here, which Ehrenreich doesn’t pursue in this chapter, is that there are benefits to first admitting and then dealing with one’s feelings of anger, fear, and disappointment. This, then, is my question: what are the benefits, personal and in terms of a society as a whole, to coping with negative thinking, with realizations about transience and mortality. In other words, what kinds of social relations could a departure from emphatic positive thinking result in?

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  4. In reading about the author's experience with cancer, I found myself thinking about my cousin, who managed to text me for help writing a speech about her battle with cancer as I was reading chapter one of Ehrenreich's book.

    The content of my cousin's speech really drove home the message about how we are sort of forcibly expected to just be happy through everything. She mentioned how angry and sad and generally devastated she was when she was diagnosed, but skipped over this quickly; just as she'd been encouraged to do in the actual course of events. She wrote about how she had the strength to be positive through everything that was happening to her, and after reading this selection from Ehrenreich, I think the better question is whether or not it would take MORE strength in our society for her to admit that she was pretty angry and sad about the whole situation. Does our culture find itself so bent on positivity that even someone diagnosed with a very potentially fatal illness would be outcast from the sort of happy bubble created by the rabid encouragement toward positive thinking, and smiling through a terrible event in one's life?

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  5. Following the line of thinking in many of the comments above, Ehrenriech's arguements made me think about the way that Americans deal with failure.

    She argues that our focus on positive thinking is not a sign of our success or happiness as a nation, but rather a sign of a deep discontent with our lives, our society, what and how we're doing, etc. Positive thinking, she claims, is a mask to keep us from thinking about these ideas.

    With that line of thought, it seems easy to assume that one of the things we either avoid, rationalize, or deal with through positive thinking is anything we deem as a "failure." Avoiding failure, and more specifically avoiding dealing with failure, deeply undermines any chance for growth, success, or learning. Failure is often more valuable in success insomuch that it helps you to move forward and learn from your actions.

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  6. In Ehrenreich's excerpt, I continued to think about how patients (didn't know which term would be best) are coddled into ignorant positivity. As a Ph D in cell biology (18), Ehrenreich was already equipped with an informed skepticism and desire to understand the disease physically (and mentally and socially perhaps). The author seems to have confronted the ugly sides of the "Bright Side," and come out stronger for it, but my question is this: Do some people in fact benefit from this ignorant bliss? That is to say, would knowing some of the facts (and tactics) uncovered by Ehrenreich in fact lead to despair in the case of some living with breast cancer?

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  7. This is on a phone, so bear with me. As I read the article, I made comparisons to my old town. People were very happy but very under privileged. Why be positive when there is so much to be negative about? Being negative could help them gain attention to our town...but they don't. It is upsetting.

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