Attitude - is it everything? (a parody of an anecdote told by Francie Baltazar-Schwartz)

Jerry was the kind of guy you love to hate. He was always in a good mood and always had something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, "If I were any better, I would be twins!" This, of course, confounded and annoyed everyone he said it to, for it made absolutely so sense at all.

He was a unique manager because he had several waiters who had followed him around from restaurant to restaurant. The reason the waiters followed Jerry was because of his attitude. He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Jerry was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation. Of course, his boisterous enthusiasm about thinking positive despite the vagaries of reality infuriated people who were not hooked on self-motivational techniques, and he was especially unwelcome at sorrowful occasions - funerals, for example, when his zest for thinking positively and inciting others to do likewise was just inappropriate. Everyone remembered what had happened when he'd shown up at Jane's mother's funeral and scandalised everyone with his upbeat remarks about how her hernia would never trouble her again, and how she would not have to pay taxes anymore, dancing as she was in the Elysian Fields, while Jane would not have to take care of an incontinent, Parkinson's Disease-stricken crone anymore, and would get her mother's old house to boot!

Seeing this style really made me curious, if not a bit apprehensive, so one day I went up to Jerry and asked him, "I don't get it! You can't be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?'

Jerry replied, "Each morning I wake up and say to myself, 'Jerry, you have 2 choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life."

"Yeah, right, it's not that easy," I protested.

Yes it is, Jerry said. "Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people will affect your mood. You choose to be in a good or bad mood. The bottom line: It's your choice how you live life."

I reflected on what Jerry said even though his words rung hollow. Soon thereafter, I left the restaurant industry to start my own business. We lost touch, but I tried hard to be inspired by his philosophy about life. Nevertheless, it failed for I could not deceive myself. Every morning from then on, I woke up and said to myself: Man, you have 2 choices today. You can choose to delude yourself into thinking that you are happy regardless of everything that happens, and looking at the 'silver lining' of every storm cloud, even if there is none (hallucinating one if need be to continue the elaborate self-deception), or you can stare reality straight in the eye with no illusions and face life. I chose not to look at the world through tinted lenses. Each time something bad happened, I allowed room for regret, grief, self-pity and other cathartic emotions, and everytime someone came to me trying to convert me to Jerry's deceptive philosophy, or something very much like it, I pointed out how they were deceiving themselves, and how it was like being addicted to Magic Mushrooms or plugged into the Matrix. Regretfully, I did not manage to convince many, for they were content to wallow in their addictive cocktail of feel-good stories, self-help books grounded n sophistry and "motivational" seminar after "motivational" seminar, delivered by saccharinely fake characters reminiscent of the worst sort of used car salesman I'd ever seen.

Several years later, I heard that Jerry did something you are never supposed to do in a restaurant business: he left the back door open one morning and was held up at gunpoint by 3 armed robbers. While trying to open the safe, his hand, shaking from nervousness, slipped off the combination. The robbers panicked and shot him. Luckily, Jerry was found relatively quickly and rushed to the local trauma centre.

After I8 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, Jerry was released from the hospital with fragments of the bullets still in his body.

I saw Jerry about 6 months after the accident. When I asked him how he was, he replied, "If I were any better, I'd be twins. Wanna see my scars?

Somehow I was not surprised that he was still spouting that gibberish, and almost delivered a choice repartee under my breath. I declined to see his wounds, but did ask him what had gone through his mind as the robbery took place.

"The first thing that went through my mind was that I should have locked the back door," Jerry replied. 'Then, as I lay on the floor, I remembered that I had 2 choices: I could choose to live, or I could choose to die. I chose to live."

"Weren't you scared? Did you lose consciousness?" I asked. Jerry continued, "The paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the emergency room and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read, 'He's a dead man.' I knew I needed to take action"

'What did you do?" I asked.

"Well, there was a big, burly nurse shouting questions at me,' said Jerry. "She asked if I was allergic to anything, and I decided to be a wiseacre. 'Yes,' I replied, with a great effort. The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. As I took a deep breath, the unnecessary effort caused more air and blood to gush into my punctured lungs and croaked, 'Bullets!'. Waves of pain shot through my already pain-wracked body, and my breathing became more laboured. Over my pain, I dimly heard that burly nurse scolding me: 'Screw you! We're trying to do a job here. So stop cracking bad jokes and lowering your chances of survival.' Chastened, I managed to whisper, 'I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead. The burly nurse shouted at me again: 'If we thought you were dead, we'd have stopped life support long ago and sold your organs to geriatric billionaires, or maybe to that guy in charge of Body Worlds. Now shut up.'

Jerry lived thanks to the skills of his doctors, but no thanks to his 'positive' attitude. 20 years later, I met Jerry again. He was still working in the same job and commanding the same pay, while being abused by all his superiors. Everyone else had long moved past him up the career ladder. I was curious, so I asked him why he hadn't changed his job if it sucked so much.

He replied, "Each morning I wake up and say to myself, 'Jerry, you have 2 choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Everytime someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life. Every time a customer spills hot soup onto my lap, or someone 'accidentally' leaves a banana peel on the floor in front of me and I slip on it, landing heavily on my tailbone, I look on the bright side: At least I still have a job. It could be worse - I could be begging on the streets"

I neglected to point out to him that, especially with a booming economy, any employer would be more than happy to take on an employee who accepted pay below the minimum wage and worked so cheerfully, motivated by empty words and hollow motivational slogans instead of decent pecuniary or even non-pecuniary benefits. With such an attitude, it was no wonder he was content to stagnate in his job and let everyone walk all over him.

Attitude, after all, isn't everything.

I learnt from him that everyday we have the choice to deceive ourselves, and sadly, many choose to do so. Being unhappy is not necessarily bad, for it motivates you to do something about your situation and terminate the source of your troubles. After all, what do we gain by tricking ourselves into believing that we are happy? Perhaps more troublingly, if everybody were happy all of the time, the concept of happiness would be meaningless, for just as there is no good without evil and no light without darkness, there is no happiness without sadness. If one is happy all the time, in the face of reality, it cheapens the concept of happiness and makes a travesty out of it.

I have now learnt that we should not take all motivational stories at face value and send them to all our friends, because one must realise that most of them are disingenuous pieces of writing meant to deceive you about the reality of the world, and set up a self-perpetuating cycle of dependence on and addiction to self-help and motivational products and seminars to enrich those who furnish them.

You have 2 choices now:

1. Delete this crap from your mail box, or,
2. Forward it to everyone you know (and some you don't for good measure), and annoy the hell out of all of them.

Hope you will choose choice 2.



Author's Note:
I'd originally labelled the story this work is a parody of as a fairy tale, believing that the events described in it were untrue.

Some time after my publication of the parody, the author contacted me and clarified that it was a true story based on someone he knew. I apologise for my earlier dismissing of his anecdote as a fairy tale but nonetheless, my points about self-delusion and the nature of reality remain, and as such the text of the story above remains unchanged.


For a more healthy and comprehensive approach to managing negative thoughts, the following pointers might be useful:


Combating negative thoughts/self-talk


1. All or none thinking

This refers to when we think that everything must be perfect or else it is a complete failure.

We need to realise that nothing can always be perfect. Also, when the situation is negative, it is never a complete failure.

2. Overgeneralisation

This refers to when we draw conclusions from our experiences of one situation and apply them to all our experiences.

We need to realise that one negative experience does not make the entire experience or situation a complete failure.

3. Focusing on the negative/ignoring the positive

This refers to when we think only of the negative in the situation and ignore the past or present evidence if the positive.

We need to ask ourselves if there are positive aspects to the situation.

4. Unnecessary self-blame

This refers to when we take inappropriate responsibility for situations that are beyond our control.

We need to acknowledge our responsibility for a situation but firmly reject unnecessary self-blame. When we make a mistake, we need to check whether our self-blame is consistent with the severity of our mistake.

5. Fortune telling

This refers to when we think that all sorts of disasters will occur without evidence.

We forget that we do not have supernatural powers and cannot predict disasters. When we make decisions, they are based on the facts that are available at that time. There is no way to know whether bad events are going to happen.

6. Mind reading

This refers to when we jump to conclusions without evidence.

We need to think of alternative explanations before we jump to conclusions without evidence.

7. Emotional reasoning

This refers to when we base our conclusions on our feelings instead of on the facts.

We need to remember that feelings are subjective and that facts are objective. We can never trust our feelings to tell us the facts.

8. Unrealistic attitudes/expectations

This refers to when we make impossible standards for ourselves or others to keep.

We need to ask ourselves the advantages or disadvantages of holding such beliefs. If the disadvantages outweight the advantages, and rigid adherence to these beliefs bring us pain and suffering, then it is time we discard our beliefs.

9. Labelling

This refers to when we use very harsh and extreme adjectives to label others or ourselves.

We should be aware that labelling others and ourselves based on behaviour is irrational, as we cannot understand our worth as persons by our actions.

--- Mostly transcribed from an unnamed source (because I found it too awkward to properly adapt)


Of course, putting this into practice is naturally easier said than done, but awareness is a good first step to solving the problem.