The power of realistic thinking
“If it is not possible, make it possible.” The line from the military song of the special forces Black Beret was once widely used among civilians. We have to try until we make it. In order to escape extreme poverty, we all have to struggle and strive for success. We turned a blind eye to corruption and illegalities to some degree. As the entire society was eager to step up and succeed, a few self-help books from the United States became best sellers.
When I was in high school in the mid-70’s, an upperclassman recommended “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 book had become a sensational best seller in the United States and many other countries. The book suggests if I think of the image of success in my mind constantly, it will happen for me.
At first, I was so moved and inspired it was as if blinders had been removed. Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich,” Joseph Murphy’s “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind,” and Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influential People” made similar claims. If I have a positive attitude and believe in myself, I can do anything. But can I?
In “Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America,” American writer Barbara Ehrenreich sharply criticizes self-help tomes like “Who Moved My Cheese?” “The Secret” and the aforementioned works. When people believe in positive thinking in an extreme, nearly superstitious way, individuals, not the social structure, are accountable for all failures, and critical thinking goes missing.
An airplane pilot should be defensively pessimistic to take all possible risks rather than repeating the mantra, “Everything will be okay.” Citing the examples of North Korea and the Soviet Union, positive and optimistic thinking has been forced on citizens to be utilized as a tool for social control and political suppression.
Nevertheless, we must not reject positive thinking altogether. Blaming society for all failures is just as irresponsible as deeming all individuals responsible. In a study by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Matters, the younger generation tends to blame society more. While 39.3 percent of the respondents of age 60 and older condemn society, 70.2 percent of people in their 30s blame society.
Maybe, the older generation’s mantra, “Try, and you can do it!” should be changed to “Try, but you may not make it.”
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun