The magic word is “no.” Despite what you may have heard, the power of the word “no” outstrips the power of “yes.” The word “no” has greater utility, avoids unsuspecting troubles and protects against severe injury and death. When a toddler is about to stick a fork in a light socket, the word “no” saves the child from electrocution. When that famous daredevil says he can jump the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle the appropriate reaction is, “No, you mustn’t.” The power of negative thinking is in keeping with sobriety and respectable conduct. If you want to be a drug addict, “Just say no.” If you don’t want higher taxes, vote “no” on nearly every proposition. And if you don’t want socialism then your watchword is, “No we can’t!”
I ought to write a book on the power of negative thinking. Chapter 1 should be titled “The Awful Damaging Consequences of Yes.” Ask yourself a simple question: Is a “yes”-man noble? Do you want to live without discretion or judgment? Is it right to accommodate everyone? Our permissive society is all about “yes,” so that yes has become sinister. Opening the flood-gates of yes has deformed our society. In the delicate balance of yes and no, we have tipped too far in the direction of yes and are becoming a nation of neurotics and weirdoes. Man is limited and fragile. He is not all-knowing or all-powerful. In fact, we all need to be reminded of our limitations. Think of the damage caused when we say “yes” to our appetites, our whims, our momentary urges. If you are 500 pounds, you’ve been saying “yes” when you should be saying “no.” If your credit cards are maxed, it is because you live in a world of “yes” when your world should be about “no.”
Chapter 2 should be titled, “Shut Up and Sit Still.” Every fool has an opinion without knowledge, an impulse without a plan, a readiness to plunge headlong into God-knows-what. The first lesson of discipline is to be quiet and think; to show self-restraint. Impulsiveness is the essence of the self-destructive life based on “yes.” Follow every impulse and you won’t get far. Stop yourself and you just might save yourself. And who on earth can possibly stop you? The fact is: You’re the only one who has the power of self-stopping. So shut up and sit still.
Chapter 3 should be titled “The Virtue of Guilt.” If you haven’t done anything bad in recent weeks or months, consider what you presently have in mind. You are wicked by nature, so you are guilty by nature. Therefore, it is appropriate to feel guilty. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Don’t be slipshod and weak. Suck in your gut and make a new start. Guilt is the stick across your back sent to make you better. Is guilt unpleasant? It’s supposed to be, and it better be. Feel guilty often, and have plenty of regrets. People who have no regrets are dangerous. They will suck you in and suck you down.
Chapter 4 should be titled “You’re Not So Special.” For two generations we’ve been telling children that they are special. Now we have an emerging generation of depressed adults who need constant affirmation. The demanding, impertinent and entitled individual is a weak and emotionally unstable neurotic who clings to false optimism because truth and reality are too frightening and difficult. One ought to ask: What makes all these “special” people so special? There’s nothing special about a narcissistic crybaby, and nobody likes self-pity, blubbering or whining.
Chapter 5 should be titled “How Fear and Worry Can Save You.” That’s right. Fear is good, because there are bad people and scary countries with leaders who want to anthrax you. Fear is basic to survival. Those who fear nothing are not long for this world. As for worrying, the worrier displays a caring attitude. If you really care, then you cannot help worrying. It is those who do not care about anything that never worry. For they have nothing to worry about, being detached and emotionally separated from the concerns of the whole human race. If someone tells you to stop worrying and live in the present, remind him that living in the present is for children and animals. It is not for adults.
Chapter 6 should be titled “Why Suffering is Good.” The answer is simple: Comfort is enervating while suffering hardens and strengthens. As a famous fitness guru once said, “No pain, no gain.” Those who are always feeling good never learn or grow. The best education comes in the wake of failure. If a man lives entirely without failure he cannot be called “fortunate”; for he has not learned life’s real lesson, which is loss. The more we live, the more we lose. As time advances we lose our youth, our health and eventually our lives. The cult of “winning” and “avoidance of suffering” is unnatural and guarantees a maladjusted attitude.
Chapter 7 should be “Realize What an Idiot You Really Are.” The ancient dictum “Know thyself” is the distilled essence of philosophy. And to know yourself is to know that idiocy has no bottom. It is fathomless and without limit. There is no stupidity that cannot ensnare you, no folly that cannot suck you in. As Dirty Harry famously said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” The more clever you seem to yourself, the more likely you are nearing some hard object about to strike you upside the head.
This is my advice to everyone: The power of negative thinking is real power. And remember, the magic word is “no.”