I’m off the fags and the fröccs for November. Alone in my sober, smoke-free corner of Budapest, with ample time to find alternate ways to amuse myself, I’ve been driven to desperate measures. On my third mentes ásványvíz (still water) the other night, I found myself drifting into another world as those around me successfully sought to alter the state of theirs. I started to think about adjectives. About how we use and abuse them. Adjectives are like salt – add a teaspoon to a glass of water, it’s undrinkable; add a teaspoon to a lake, it goes unnoticed. Anyway, to amuse myself, I started working my way down the alphabet, picking out adjectives that I felt describe me, at a certain time of day, in a particular type of week: Aphoristic, Bewildering, Complex, Daring, Extravagant, Faithful, Gullible… and there I got stuck.
The positive side of gullibility
According to G. K Chesterton, ‘Gullibility is the key to all adventures. The greenhorn is the ultimate victor in everything; it is he who gets the most out of life.’ By his reckoning, my life has been nothing but one long adventure starting with my cousin telling me that if I wanted a baby, I would have to go to the doctor for a special diet; the food he told me to eat would make the baby grow in my tummy. I had an excuse for that one – I was only ten. A third-year engineering student told me that traffic lights in Dublin were synchronized with those in Los Angeles; when one turned green in LA, one turned red in Dublin. I had no excuse for believing that one – I was 17; but he was gorgeous! I have spent a small fortune on infomercial products. Even though I rarely wear make-up, I’ve been known to succumb to vague promises of distant beauty. I have tried every stain-remover on the market. Right now I want this steam mop that I saw advertised on Serbian TV. Gullible could be my middle name!
The attraction of quantum physics
It will come as no surprise then that I fell hook, line, and sinker for the law of attraction. Just think positive and it’ll happen. Imagine what you want and it’ll come to you. Treat the universe like one giant mail-order catalogue for which you have unlimited credit. I decided to put it to the test – and a test it would be as I was a) distantly related to the Irishman who wrote Murphy’s Law; and b) living in Hungary, a country not exactly noted for its positivity. Last month, I decided I wanted some fresh flowers for my kitchen. I was knackered; too tired to make a decision as to what kind of flowers I wanted or how much I wanted to spend. So I walked away from the flower stand, stemless. Not five minutes after I got home, my neighbour rang the doorbell. She had taken delivery of a gorgeous bouquet that had come for me while I was out. Order fulfilled. A colleague asked me what my rates were in US dollars. I said I wished I knew but as I’d never had to quote for work in the States, I was clueless. Not two days later I was asked to bid on a job in Michigan. A double whammy! A client of mine had been rather quiet on the work front yet still actively publishing, just not using my services. I wondered aloud at this and said I’d like to hear from them again. That evening I had three phone calls, from three different people in the same organisation, offering three different pieces of work. Order fulfilled, in triplicate. And believe me, the list goes on.
The dangers of unbridled optimism
I started reading more about it. At first I was impressed to see that many of these positive-thinking gurus were using ‘law of attraction’ in the same sentence as ‘quantum physics’. Surely if there was some science behind it, it had to be real. Then I read where some leading motivational speakers were urging us to ditch all the negative thinkers in our lives, where pastors were making their churches complaint-free zones, and where being happy and positive at work was becoming de rigueur. And then I began to get a little scared.
I can’t imagine myself being positive all the time. I can’t imagine a world where no one complains. I can’t imagine a world where no one ever has a negative thought. We need balance. We need contrast. We need negative people to challenge us. Perhaps if there’d been a little more negative thinking, instead of the unbridled optimism that was part and parcel of recent financial governance, the world wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today.
First published in the Budapest Times 22 November 2011