A short NYTimes opinion piece argues that although the deadly sin of greed has played a part in the financial crisis, the delusional optimism of mainstream America (and Merrill and Lehman) has also been the culprit. How are we to proceed? Not like the Calvinists of old the author says:
Calvinists thought “negatively,” as we would say today, carrying a weight of guilt and foreboding that sometimes broke their spirits. It was in response to this harsh attitude that positive thinking arose — among mystics, lay healers and transcendentalists — in the 19th century, with its crowd-pleasing message that God, or the universe, is really on your side, that you can actually have whatever you want, if the wanting is focused enough.
The alternative to both is realism — seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news and being prepared for famine as well as plenty. We ought to give it a try.
The author succeeds in dropping a lot of bombs in a short time. My short thought on the matter is that if we were to really “get real” then we might be more negative than the Calvinists. As I have learned in the last couple weeks, our reality depends on something outside of ourselves. The bank runs of the past couple weeks around the world have been outside the control of those inside the bank. If the world thinks that a bank is insolvent or untrustworthy it will quickly become so. Oppositely, if the world thinks that a bank is trustworthy it will prosper.
It sounds funny saying that it doesn’t matter what we think about ourselves, but only what other people think about us. I can kindof get confused in my head about it; probably from so many years of hearing “Sticks and stones can break my bones…”, etc. Freedom, it appears, comes not from a positive sense about ourselves derived from ourselves, but rather from a strong word from outside ourselves. It is the encouragement and affection from our spouses or teachers or parents (basically someone that we think matters who isn’t us) that affects whether we walk standing up or not.