The mega-church preacher and author Joel Osteen, whose soporific and mesmerizing voice is almost irresistible, preaches joyful obedience. I sometimes catch Osteen as I am channel surfing, and I find him fascinating. I do a pretty good Osteen impression, if I say so myself. If I remember right, he preached this weekend: “You don’t have to go [to] work; you get to go to work.” He had a whole litany of things that we should be grateful for and see as privileges rather than burdens. Mrs Vache Folle piped up with her addition: “You don’t have to have head lice; you get to have head lice.”
On one level, Osteen is right. We should be less ungrateful and more appreciative of our many blessings. We should make the best of our situation until we can change it. But it is too easy to fall into the trap of condemning all criticism and complaint and discontent as subversive and selfish.
I recall Bill Gothard's program in my youth in which I was instructed that any unhappiness I felt was a manifestation of selfishness, that I was responsible for my own feelings and should neither complain nor try to change things. My own pastor used the word "bullshit" to describe how he felt about this teaching.
In the West Indies, folks often referred to the concept of “negativity” as something that impeded progress. It was “negativity” that caused initiatives to fail, and one could sometimes successfully shut down criticism by playing the “negativity” card.
Incidentally, I wonder why it is that management is (implicitly) exempt from all the new-agey "just accept it and get your head in the right place" vibes of Fish! Philosophy. When they send down an angry memo about this or that aspect of how we do our work being unacceptable, why don't we get to tell them "Hey, you can't do anything about the way we do our jobs, but you can choose your attitude toward it"? The answer, obviously, is that we're dealing with a one-way power relationship. They're the ones who get to make "change"; we're the ones who have to "deal with it." They don't need to have a "good attitude" toward the bad shit that's done to them, because they're the ones doing all the bad shit to other people. That's why there's such a close correlation between the appearance of those first Fish! banners and the beginning of downsizing, layoffs, and other unpleasantness. When you see a Fish! Philosophy banner, it's like being told you've got "a real purty mouth": a sign that something really unpleasant is about to follow.
Also incidentally, it's a pretty jarring effect to see all those "don't worry, be happy" Fish! banners all over the place combined with the general atmosphere of fear, reminiscent of a Stalinist purge, that accompanies an open-ended period of layoffs. It's kind of Twilight Zonish: "It's good that management did those horrible things--it's real good!"