May 18, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

The power of positive thinking—again

Cynthia DewesEverybody loves a secret.

Little kids whisper and giggle about them, actors reveal them in loud “asides” in melodramas, and teenage girls can’t live a day without them. “I’ve Got a Secret” was a popular quiz show in the early days of television.

Somehow, if a thing is secret it’s more romantic, more appealing than an ordinary fact or event or whatever it is. It’s delicious to be told a secret or to restrain yourself from telling one. And sharing secrets is both excruciating and delightful, like enjoying being scared by movies or stories.

It’s come to my attention that the old “secret” idea is now the subject of a book touted by Oprah Winfrey and others. The Secret (capitalized, signifying importance) is that we are all masters of our own fates. If we think positively, we will make positive gains in life; if we don’t, we’ll fail.

A National Public Radio reporter said she’d tried out this theory with mixed results. She started with some goals: to cure her sinus ailments and to get a new kitchen floor. So, proceeding according to The Secret method, she thought of these goals as already accomplished. She not only expected, but tried to believe that her sinuses were healed and her kitchen floor was perfect.

She reported that the results were sinuses F, kitchen floor A, and she’s not sure if The Secret was responsible for the A. The latter happened when, after focusing on the problem and thinking positively, she came up with a simple and inexpensive idea for transforming the damaged floor. Now, isn’t that revolutionary? Isn’t that an epiphany of spiritual understanding?

Well, no. Norman Vincent Peale, among many others, promoted the idea of positive thinking 50 years ago. Not to mention philosophers and theologians since time began. Optimism beats pessimism every time, and everyone knows that a positive attitude is not only emotionally but also physically healing.

The lengths to which people will go to avoid religious answers to human problems always amazes me, and this is one of those instances. Somehow, modern thinkers cannot accept the idea that there is a loving supernatural power greater than themselves. They can’t imagine depending upon prayer or giving up control.

Little do they know that, when we stop trying to manage every single aspect of our lives and the lives of others, we’re given the grace to live fully and joyously. We ground ourselves and become support for others, while humbly acknowledging that we are not in charge here.

The Secret is little more than a rehashing of the New Age idea that it’s we, not some God or spirit or whatever, who’s calling the shots. Somehow, advocates of this kind of promise think that dependence upon an unseen divinity is a cop-out, a weak attempt to answer hard questions or to avoid taking responsibility.

They make things so much harder for themselves. Personally, I’d hate to think that solutions to gaining world peace, eliminating poverty or keeping the human race healthy and content depended upon me or my decisions.

Certainly I should do whatever I can in every way to make these situations better. In fact, we should all be working together toward that goal. But, in the end, only God’s grace and sticking to God’s plan will free us from human problems. And that is something we can assist with prayer.

We’ve got a Secret, too; it’s called faith in God.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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