Sunday, February 8, 2015

Dismiss Pollyanna: Beware of people who cheer you on with pollyannish optimism

In America, being optimistic is key to being liked and successful.

  • Politicians know they get votes with such statements as, “America’s best days are yet to come.”
  • Self-help gurus sell more books and get more clients by blithely proclaiming, “Work hard and you can achieve your dreams.”
  • Clerics get more parishioners and donations with “With God’s help you can accomplish anything.”
  • Friends who say, “You can do it” will be much more popular than those who make a probabilistic assessment, for example, 
Your chances of paying back your student loans let alone making a sustainably middle-class income from that music or art or fashion or broadcasting degree are lower than of a rattlesnake biting you in your bed. Of course, highly talented people who can get into a nationally-top school, cannot be so denigrated. But outside of those few elite schools, artsy degree and certificate programs can, without much exaggeration, be described as bizarrely expensive four-to-six-year summer camps that enable their lackluster students to claim to be pursuing a career.

Imagine a friend saying the previous paragraph to you—You’d probably de-friend them faster than you could say “mean-spirited.” 

Yet being popular should be less important than being helpful. My article today attempts to be helpful even at the risk of your disliking it.

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