Postive Thinking - 'Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish, and Short'

Do you recognize the quoted phrase in the title of this post? Think you've heard something like that before but can't place it?

It's from a 1651 book by Thomas Hobbes entitled "Leviathan", and the quote characterized the life of man in his natural state (or a pure democracy)! Hobbes wasn't much of a positive thinker, apparently.

Then again, maybe positive thinking isn't natural. According to Hobbes, the natural state is one of fear and avarice - every man for himself. There are places around the world today where this scenario is a reality and despair is in abundance. People in those situations naturally fear everyone and everything. People in safer circumstances ask how a benevolent God could allow such suffering? Or get cut off in traffic and feel personally insulted, and perhaps even take retribution! For me, at least, it's often hard to see good in many of the lessons of the School of Hard Knocks, particularly when they come in bunches. Or, as it sometimes happens, near-comical torrents (okay, they'd be comical if they were fictional and happening to someone else). The natural thought is "What next?" or "Why me?"

Much of this comes from the fact that the oldest parts of our brain, our reptilian r-Complex, survived for millions of years using just that set of attitudes. We only later evolved the ability to love and subsequently to reason at a high level. Yet in times of stress, the reptile brain makes decisions using the old patterns, and later our higher brains backfill the "reasons" for those decisions. Often to our detriment. How many times has justifying a bad irrational decision caused us further harm?

Winston Churchill once said: "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried." People may think that asking "What is good about [insert bad situation here]?" is naive and Pollyanna-ish. But as with democracy, it beats all the other thoughts you could have at that moment. Take for example the centerpiece of my weekend. It's about noon and well over 100 degrees in the shade. My daughter calls and her car won't start. I pack up my tools and make the 40 minute drive to her apartment (did I mention the air in my car is acting up?). I get there and we pop the hood. We are not in the shade. Try to jump it. No luck. Disconnect and pull out the battery. Drive to semi-nearby auto parts place. Battery has kicked the bucket. Buy new battery. Install new battery only to note that terminals are reversed. Uninstall battery, drive back to auto parts store, exchange battery, drive back to apartment, install battery. Success! Seek medical help for heat stroke treatment.

During this whole time there are many choice thoughts I could have had (and have in the past). But my daughter is very busy (full time college student by day, overnight manager at a major retailer by night), and I don't get to see her nearly as much as I'd like. And I knew she really needed her car fixed right away. So I was grateful for being able to help her, and for the bonus time we got together. I still looked and smelled a fright when it was all done, but I felt great!

This post is part of Think Positive! Blog's group writing project. I was pressganged into this project by Nic Darling, whose post title of Positive Thinking: Life is Miserable inspired me to come up with something even more anachronistic. Thanks, Nic! And thanks Kristen for starting the project!

posted by Mike at 12:42 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see you were up to the challenge. This is a great take on positive thinking. After all, if everything is simply a matter of scale than a positive thought is only that which is less negative. It is, as you point out, all about making a decision.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Thanks for the kind words, Nic! And it IS all about making a decision.


12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,
Thanks for joining in this group writing project! I appreciate the support. What a day you had! ;) As you know... it's not what happens to us that is important - it's how we react to what happens!

8:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


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11:19 PM  

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