Are you a 'positive person'? Are you 'goal orientated'? Are you 'going for it'? Are you avoiding 'negative people'?

If you are, then you might be a member of The Cult of Positivity. Never mind Christian fundamentalism or Scientology, The Cult of Positivity is far more insidious than anything shonky preacher Benny Hinn might say every weekday morning on TV2.

I've been thinking about things 'positive' over the last few days.

It was prompted by a curious lead news item on TV3 that claimed the Auckland property market was 'improving'. (March 5). House prices were on their way up again the news item informed us. The implication was that this little old recession was just a temporary blip on the radar and soon we would be back to those halcyon days of booming housing prices and property developers could again start demolishing character houses and replace them with a row of cheap and nasty flats.

This piece of positivity was based entirely on the February sales figures of one real estate company, Barfoot and Thompson - not an entirely disinterested actor in this news story, you might think. It published the figures, along with a glowing press release, on its website.

Barfoot and Thompson's figures were accepted uncritically by TV3.

The next day after some more terrible news about the state of the economy, newsreader Carolyn Robinson told us that there was some 'good news' - oil prices had dropped again.

Great. Things aren't so bad after all. Clearly TV3, and TVNZ who are just as bad if not worse, think they have a 'duty' to raise the flagging national spirit. Who knew that Simon, Wendy, Michael and Hilary are not just newsreaders - they're motivational coaches as well!

The Cult of Positivity is all over our media. It's an inability to tell it like it is, a constant desire to sugarcoat the bitter pill of dire economic news, a refusal to confront the crisis head on.

The Cult of Positivity has replaced the egalitarian ethos born of the post-war social democratic consensus.

When I got my first job as an nineteen year old back in the late 70s - for a government department no less - the very attractive woman who interviewed me was seeking to recruit a batch of twenty or so 'clerical cadets'. She asked me a few obligatory questions but, as I had the necessary high school qualifications, I was presentable and reasonably articulate and I didn't have an intimate relationship with the legal authorities, I got the job.

I left after three years but some of my intake are still there, albeit some of them are now in more senior roles.
The Cult of Positivity is all over our media. It's an inability to tell it like it is, a constant desire to sugarcoat the bitter pill of dire economic news, a refusal to confront the crisis head on.

These days its often not just about having the required CV and a presentable appearance - its about having the right attitude. You can't just do a job and then go home, you've got to have 'goals', you have to be part of the team, you have to be 'on board' re the corporate mission statement. Capitalism just doesn't want our labour - it wants to hijack our minds as well.

The Cult of Positivity has also infiltrated down to what are often referred to as the more menial low-paid jobs. A friend of mine recently went for a part time cleaning job. She had to fill out a four page application form. She was also asked by the interviewer what her goals were. She was tempted to say that her goal was not to be a part time cleaner but she didn't. She played by the rules and mouthed a few platitudes that she thought the interviewer wanted to hear.

She didn't get the job. Her acting abilities clearly let her down.

You can also find The Cult of Positivity down at Work and Income where 'the long term unemployed' (ie people who don't want crap jobs) are sent on privately-run courses were they are told that the only reason they can't got a job is that they don't think positively, they have low esteem, etc. Apparently its got nothing to do with the deficiencies of the economic system that impinges on us all everyday.

Some years ago I got sent by WINZ to one of these ludicrous courses. It was run by a nationwide private firm set up by a guy who was a former bankrupt. He had obviously decided that a lucrative government contract was a good way to avoid bankruptcy in the future.

The guy running the course told us that he had also been unlucky in business and for a year he had sat on the couch watching TV and contemplating the debt he owed the taxman.

Then, one day, he read a 'self help' book given to him by a friend. He was transformed. He joined The Cult of Positivity!

This guy was a little weird and I'm being kind here.

His hero was Buzz Lightyear because Buzz was 'such a positive character'. He also told the class that he could 'think' himself into an empty car space, even when there were no spaces left in the supermarket carpark. All he had to do was picture an empty car space and one would soon appear. I'm sniggering while I'm writing this but it's true!

Mind over matter - Marx got it wrong, after all!

I told him he had been watching too many episodes of the X-Files which went down like a lead balloon. I still got my certificate at the end of the course though. Another memorable day right up there with the time I had diarrhoea for two straight days.

The Cult of Positivity reigns supreme in the corporate world. The members of The Cult of Positivity drone on endlessly about 'innovation' and 'cutting edge enterprises' and 'New Zealand leading the world' (always a good cliche for the nationalist vote). They are always upbeat, unnervingly self-confident and a gigantic pain in the arse.

Failed property developer Dave 'Hendo' Henderson - and a good mate of ACT's Rodney Hide- is one of those gung ho, 'making it happen' types. He talks a big game and was convincing enough for Canterbury Chamber of Commerce head Pete Townsend to describe him as a 'urban visionary'.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker believed the Henderson hype too and gave him $14 million of ratepayers money for some nondescript buildings that would probably sell for less than half that amount now.

Positive Dave's property empire has collapsed and Henderson has lost investors, many of them the small 'mum and dad' investors, a whole truckload of money - much of it lent to him by wildly positive finance companies like Hanover. They thought that Dave's ambition to build a village near Queenstown was fantastic and gave him $70 million to help him 'achieve his vision'. The village vision never got further than a big hole in the ground,

Inevitably The Cult of Positivity - like all cults - has proven to be delusional.

There was an unerring, childlike belief that the economic good times were here to stay. People who warned that the 'boom' was built on credit and would eventually fall over like a House of Cards were waved away - we don't that sort of 'negative thinking' around here was the cry, especially since we're making a lot of money!

When the crash came, The Cult of Positivity was ill-prepared to deal with it - and it still isn't dealing with it.

Every time the stockmarket recovers, albeit one for one day only, hopes rise that the worst is over. The next day the market declines again. Every tiny piece of economic 'good news' is desperately clutched at as a sign that the economy isn't really going to hell in a handcart.

Of course these full subscribed members of The Cult of Positivity want to make the rest of us pay the price of a crisis that we're not responsible for. It's like paying the bill for a massive party that we weren't invited to - but we're expected to wear the hangover.

Well, if EVERYTHING can be achieved with a positive attitude then the corporate gunslingers can go and solve the crisis themselves - and they can leave the rest of us out of it.

How's that for being positive?


  1. Bloody hell, I could have writen has a resonnance. I believe that I am very positive, and one of my most positive traits is the ability to see reality clearly and honestly explain it as it really is. Consequently I dont work in the media. And as i dont reflect their views I am regarded as a cup half empty doomsayer.


Comments are moderated.