September 2008

First, The Good News!

Author: Paul deVere

“Ma’am, you won the Publishers’ Clearing House Sweepstakes,” the young man says.

The woman, a cook at a local grade school for over 20 years with two kids in college, asks, “So, what’s the bad news?”

The guy with the check in his hand, television cameras rolling, says, “I’m sorry ma’am, there is no bad news.”

The woman looks at the multi-million dollar check and replies, “I wish I could believe you.”

Negativity? It seems like EVERYBODY is on a “negative” trip. No question. These are tough times. Bank closings. Wall Street’s ups and downs and downs. Gas. Oil. And to top it off, on August 5, 2008, Mr. Bubble, the mega-hit baby bubble bath developed in the 1960s, filed for Chapter 11!

Oh, almost forgot. Real estate. Sub-prime loans. But Hilton Head Island and Southern Beaufort County are definitely not Florida or California or Arizona… That’s right! They’re not! In fact, foreclosure rates in all of South Carolina are well below the average (as of this writing, we’re 41st on the list). Hilton Head Island? Way below. Hmmm.

A few months ago, a newspaper article said that one out of 1,117 homes in Beaufort County was in foreclosure. Would it have been inappropriate to state that for every 1,117 homes in Beaufort County, only one was in foreclosure? Too Pollyanna? (For comparison, look at Savannah/Chatham County: for every 233 houses, one is in foreclosure.)

What about good news? When is that coming? I wanted an answer.

It’s actually rather easy to find. Google “good news” and first up is You get 30 days of good news free; then, for about three bucks a month, you can check out headlines that will NOT include phrases such as “Roadside Bomb …” “School/Church/Mall Shooting …” or “Bank Collapse Causes Thousands …”

Instead, the headlines are more like, “Honey Better Than Cough Medicine For Soothing Kids’ Coughs,” or “New Batteries Boost Electric Car and Laptop Capacity by a Thousand Percent,” or “Investment in Clean Energy Hit Record High in 2007.” The stories are from real news articles, not junk journalism. They’re from the same newspapers and television news programs that report on the latest “Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).” Actually, it’s kind of fun. Even Collin Powell thinks it’s kind of fun (he’s one of the folks whom the site uses as an endorsement).

What follows on the same Google page are all the people making heaps of money on bad news by showing you how to dismiss it. Like The Power of Positive Thinking, Prosperity Theology, The New Thought Movement and, of course, The Law of Attraction (e.g., “The Secret”).

You might be cynical about all that “positive” stuff. Or you might be a believer. If nothing else, it’s given humorists some fun ammunition. Motivational speaker and comedian Vinny Verelli (often called “the Tony Soprano of motivational speakers”) says, “If you’re falling out of an airplane, the law of gravity trumps the law of attraction.” (My apologies to Rhonda Byrne fans. Byrne is producer and author of The Secret, both DVD and book on the best seller lists for almost 90 weeks.)

Being a confirmed cynical optimist (or is it an optimistic cynic?) I contacted an expert on the human condition and how we humans should face these so called “bad news” times. Where was the silver lining? When would my Vanguard IRA jump into the stratosphere and allow me to retire sometime before age 92?

Hilton Head Islander, Dr. Howard Rankin, a licensed clinical psychologist, best-selling author, well known speaker, and a very smart and understanding guy, immediately admitted to me that he didn’t know what my Vanguard IRA would do, now or in the future. But he had some fascinating comments about how people respond in times of trouble.

He told me about one fellow who came to him who had had a string of, to use Rankin’s medical jargon, “bad luck.” Recently, during a torrential rain storm, a large tree fell on his newly roofed garage, crushing it and his1987 Cadillac convertible (he purchased it new) that had 348,352 miles on it. The car was totally ruined. The gentleman (in his mid- sixties), totally depressed, told Dr. Rankin it was an obvious sign “from above” he should no longer drive.

Dr. Rankin suggested, rather, that the gentleman should call his insurance company and get a new car. Now that’s cool. Rankin called that “adaptive thinking.”

“This ‘positive movement,’ in some ways, inspires a fake feel good about it,” Rankin said. “I much more favor adaptive thinking. As in, here’s the problem and what are we going to do about it? When you focus on something and actually have a plan to do something about it, you will actually feel a bit better, because you have a plan and you’re in action mode rather than in the complain mode,” he explained.
“There’s no question seeing the good side of things is important. But with (overly) positive thinking, you sort of ignore the down side. Adaptive thinking is about seeing both sides,” Rankin said, “then acting on that information.”

On negativity, Rankin said, “Most people do not see the symbolism in their lives, the fact they live in a beautiful place in the best country in the world. We’re not trained to do that. We live very much in the moment and our mind is habitual. We tend to ruminate around the same sorts of things. Expanding that out, what we need to look at is, to use a Tony Robins expression, the ‘power within,’ the fact we do have other resources, the fact that we do have other ways to deal with things, the fact that we do need to look at the big picture. The fact that, in fact, there are things we can do about the situation,” Rankin explained.

A few days ago, after talking with Dr. Rankin, I was playing golf (my version) with a somewhat heavyset guy from, we’ll say, New York City. He was playing “army golf.” Left. Right. Left. Right. He excused his seeming inability to get the ball in the fairway due to a phone call that morning. His boss called (at the six-bedroom, oceanfront home he was renting for two weeks) to tell him that due to the economy, his bonus was going to be two percent less than anticipated. He, the golfer, was furious.

I was a little confused. He’s getting a BONUS. He has a JOB. He’s vacationing at a BEACHFRONT house on HILTON HEAD ISLAND. And he’s COMPLAINING? On 18, he missed a three-foot putt. (He was already three over for the hole.) “My God,” he exclaimed, “what am I going to do?”

I wasn’t sure if he was talking about his slimmed down bonus or his golf game. I decided it was the latter. Here was my chance to help the guy practice “adaptive thinking.”

“How about lessons?” I suggested.

My “adaptive reflexes” kicked in quite well. The head of his Scotty Cameron Circa 62 Charcoal Mist Putter ($300.00) went right through the trunk of his 2008 Lexus LH600s L rather than through my “adaptive” 05/30/1945 head, which shifted to the left at extraordinary speed.

I will not sue him. Instead I will send him Dr. Rankin’s best-selling book, “The TOP Way to Weight Loss.”

The good news? Being positive/adaptive—I will shortly send him (he gave me his business card) a sleeve of exploding golf balls, just for (positive) laughs.

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