Visions of a Positive Future vs Fixing a Pathological Present

Reprinted from OpEdNews.com

It is not enough to resist or fight the system and the problems that exist. It is absolutely inadequate to aim for repairing the symptoms of what is broken. We need big, positive visions which lift our sights higher, towards horizons where there are bright futures, not scotch tape and bubblegum fixes for the pathological system we currently inhabit.

Back in the early eighties, when I was a lonely pioneer in the field that has become Positive Psychology (I called it Positivity back then,) most of the world of psychology focused on pathology. Clinical psychologists asked the questions:
  • What is the diagnosis?
  • What are the pathological symptoms?
  • What is the etiology that has led to the current clinical pathology?
  • What treatments, interventions and drugs are needed to eliminate the symptoms and pathology?
I had a different idea. How much can we help people by, instead of fixing what is broken or pathological, teaching them how to move in positive directions, helping them to develop positive skills. Instead of treating symptoms, we could help them develop habits and behaviors and attitudes that would lift them, regardless of the symptoms, towards greater health, happiness, inner strength and well-being. Of course, there was and is a place for pathology oriented “treatment” of psychological problems, but people back then were not talking about positive ways to lift people towards robust health, as opposed to the mainstream model of helping people to be not ill. I had an overhead transparency that something along the lines– Be Well, not not-sick. Since those early days, starting, for me in 1981, the field of Positive psychology has emerged as a major new idea that has sprouted wings and legs of its own. The International Positive Psychology Summit meeting has over 1000 attendees and hundreds of presentations, and Positive Psychology has become a field unto itself with graduate departments at major universities. Today, I’m prepping for an interview with Henry Giroux, a big picture thinker, and just published an article by Nathan Nahm, who, in his article, concludes, “It is high time that every one in America woke up for the reality we face. Stupid or not, we cannot have a useful prescription to our problem, if we don’t have a correct diagnosis.” Nahm is talking about our economic political situation. Nahm’s remark and Giroux’s big questions in the writings and interviews I’m reading in preparation for our interview, remind me of my quest, earlier in my career, to re-think the way that we help people become and stay psychologically healthy.

And Giroux says, in his book, The Violence of Organized Forgetting,

“It is not enough for people of conscience only read more