HTT: How To Positive

So I heard this great line on the radio this morning.

The story was about doctor/patient relationships especially during difficult prognosis interactions. You know . . . like . . . sorry Jane, but you only have twelve months to live, sorta thing.

There were three types of doctors described: The Avoider, the doctor who tries to avoid delivering bad news. The Merchant of Death, the doctor who delivers the full spectrum of terminal outcomes, and then the Optimist, the one who says things like "We'll get through this together :)"

Emoticon implied.

Turns out most doctors are Optimists. And it also turns out that the better the doctor knows the patient the more mistakes they're likely to make when it comes to a diagnosis.

It's as if the more you're loved, the worse your care.

The line referred to this phenomena as "The Tyranny of Positive Thinking."

But . . . you might think to yourself . . . isn't there miracle power in positive thinking? A happy Ju Ju . . . good vibes . . .  that really popular book . . . you know . . . the one that says I can bend the universe to my will if only I insist that things will turn out just they way I want them to?

I mean c'mon . . . how else are Wendy, Peter, and John gonna get to Neverland?

To which a pessimist might mumble something about pixie dust and the fact that well . . . fiction.

But it's true. We are poised to believe that positive thinking is a statistical fact. Aren't we taught that the mere act of smiling will make us happy? Don't happy thoughts make us feel better?

And the answer is yes, yes they do. And don't bad thoughts make us feel sick? And the answer is again, yes, yes they do.

So isn't it reasonable to assume that my Toyota Echo will run forever if I wish it so?

Um . . . no . . . no it isn't . . . and it also reminds me that she needs an oil change.

Which brings us, oddly enough, to Saint Francis of Assisi. Founder of the Franciscan Order of Friars (I know this because I just happen to have spent hours working on Californian Missions with my fourth grader) name-sake of my brother-in-law, patron saint of the current Pope and the twelfth century author of the serenity prayer:

“Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

That's good stuff right there. 

Even heretics like me can see the beauty and value of that statement when applied to the human condition.

Saint Frank was also famous for preaching poverty, chastity, and obedience (all three of which make my bacchanalian blood boil), but he gets top marks for the other stuff.

So for today's "How To Tuesday" I thought it might be fun to tackle the Tyranny of Positive Thinking with a few experiences of my own.

Years ago I learned this story about Laurence Olivier (I've told it before so if you've already heard it, then shush). Anyway, every night he would walk out to the front of the theater's stage, just before the patron doors would open and he would say to the empty house "Tonight you are about to see the greatest show of your theater going lives . . . oh, you lucky people."

Now . . . as a performer . . . I like to think of myself as boringly practical. My best advice to any young actor is this: "Learn your lines, show up on time, check the prop table."

Same thing as a musician. "Learn the songs, show up on time, put your set list in a place you can read it."

But there also happens to be that moment where Id, Ego, and Super-Ego start screaming like crazy because, colloquially speaking, your soul is just about to go under the knife.

If you've never done it then you have no idea of the blackness behind the curtain. So in those moments, when San Fran comes in to play, you know there is nothing you can do to change the fact that your wig doesn't fit right and your duet partner is always flat during the chorus of a song and you feel utterly helpless, Olivier comes swooping in and reminds you that all of this is joy, and that you have permission to be magnificent.

To this day I still mutter those words, strength, courage, wisdom, oh you lucky people.

Totally works.

On the flip side, I'm still waiting on a big piece of news and no amount of crossed finger wood knocking is going to make any difference nor will it shush my knife riding impatience.

Once again, we return to Frank, to remind us that admitting powerlessness is not the same as admitting defeat. And maybe . . . instead of checking my email for the fifth time today . . . I should probably go get the oil changed on my car.

There is power in positive thinking, but that shouldn't keep Mary Martin from checking her props.

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