In the most recent Dear Prudence live chat on Slate, a reader asked the following:
Negativity: I have had a bad couple of years—intermittent employment,
moved twice, lost a sibling. I’m a pretty positive person, but I’m
having trouble keeping my chin up, since that mainly results in me
taking it on the chin.
I have a friend who asked if I was feeling a little down, and when I
admitted it (something that is hard for me), she basically said it was
my fault, and my negative energy was attracting negative events. I
would not find happiness or get my old lucky life back until I could
learn to accept what fate was trying to teach me.
I don’t know what’s worse, her idea of comfort or the idea that she’s
right. She didn’t used to be crazy, but this New Age stuff has been
her reaction to being unemployed and living on credit cards. What
should I have said?
I could do without the mental-illness shaming (“She didn’t used to be crazy…”), but does this sound familiar to anyone who’s had to endure similar “well-meaning” advice from people who think you can — and should — just “buck up?” And oh my god, SCARY NEGATIVE ENERGY! I’ve covered the fallacies of The Secret and related pablum before here on FWD, so let’s take a look at advice columnist Emily Yoffe’s response:
Emily Yoffe: The Secret and other garbage of that ilk suggests people
abandon friends with problems so that they don’t get “infected” by
their negativity. So you could have said you understand her new set of
beliefs mean you two have to keep your distance and that you wish her
all the best.
I actually think the disease metaphor works well in showing just how ridiculous the notion of an “infection” of negative energy really is. To sum up: The flu is something you can get “infected” with, and it’s not fun. As for negative “energy,” — if “positive thinking” works so well in combatting anything that’s not sunshine and rainbows and unicorns pooping glitter, why do positive thinkers and Secret devotees insist on dumping people who don’t fit their exact super happy worldview? Either the super POSITIVITY!!11 worldview is incredibly fragile and therefore must never be questioned, or there’s some major cognitive dissonance going on — perhaps both?