It was inevitable that someone, at some point, would hand me a badly Xeroxed sheet of paper with a quote about “attitude” on it and suggest that I “really think about it.” I’m sort of surprised that it doesn’t happen more often.
Here’s what it said:
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice very day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
To which the only possible response — made more interesting by the fact that it was my boss who gave me the Xerox — is: What a steaming load of horseshit.
The logic of this quote is stunning, the same way that a metal bolt shot into the back of a cow’s head, stupefying it into unconsciousness before slaughter, is stunning. Not to go all reductio ad absurdum, but come on — if only starving children or enslaved laborers or the billions of people trapped into lives of discomfort, pettiness or simple cruelty could look on the bright side, well then, they would be so much better off! The way the sun glints off the blood of my family is particularly lovely this morning.
This “attitude” nonsense is pernicious, the unholy combination of Nietzschian will-to-power and Up with People. Of course a Christian minister like Charles Swindoll advocates ignoring the evidence of the physical world, because it’s the foundation that his entire life is built on. But for the rest of us, those who don’t make a living by convincing people that the misery they feel is their own fault, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard, epistemologically speaking.
And while I hesitate to make the jump from abject human suffering to corporate America — because of the multiple orders-of-magnitude differences in scale, and because the joke is too cheap — the latter is where I’ve had most of my contact with Attitude Fascists. And the same fundamental ground rules apply: Your unhappiness is your own fault. Accept your environment for what it is, because there’s nothing you can do about it. Get back to work, you.
But that’s wrong — massively, monumentally, fundamentally wrong. Sorry, Charles Swindoll, but you are mistaken. Perhaps your distain for the facts plays into it somewhere.
Environmental factors — from the availability of food and shelter to a corporate culture that encourages customization of work spaces — are the primary determinants of happiness: morale, satisfaction, not seeing your children eaten by alligators, whatever name you want to give it. I can’t pretend to provide a comprehensive survey of thought on the subject, but the information is everywhere — from theological human