Not only is the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List getting its first new addition since April, it’s also finally up to date. I had neglected to add the two most recent rationalizations, Rationalization 25C, The Romantic’s Excuse, Or “I care so much!” and #52A, Kennedy’s Stall, or “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” to the main list after introducing them in posts
I think today’s addition is the 104th Rationalization, and I’m as surprised as you probably are that there are so many. Most of the recent additions have been close relatives of previously entered ones, indicated by the letters A,B, and C, and also making counting them difficult, especially for me, since I count only slightly more accurately than I spell.
Pollyanna’s Mantra, named after the 1913 children’s literature classic by Eleanor H. Porter (and the now more famous 1960 Disney adaptation of the novel that made a sensation out of child actress Hayley Mills, above) about a little girl who was determined to see the good in everybody and everything, is another in the sub-rationalization category, stamped 3A to mark its close relationship with #3, Consequentialism. “Every cloud has a silver lining” carries on the deception of #3, which takes advantage of a quirk of human nature that wants to confer credit for the accidental and unintended benefits of an unethical decision or unethical conduct on the individual responsible for the decision or conduct. Pollyanna’s Mantra seeks to mitigate accountability for unethical conduct that has had predictable negative results by trying to shift attention to some positive consequences, real or contrived.
Pollyanna’s Mantra is virtually a cult for some people, and it can be a crippling one. It is the philosophy by which advocates “stay positive” at all costs and as part of the deal, manage to avoid holding anyone accountable for deliberate misconduct as well as avoidable mistakes. Thus, unlike many rationalizations on the list, devotees of #3A are often “nice” as well as ethical. They are forgiving, understanding, practitioners of the Golden Rule above all else, and reluctant to judge others.
Here is the thinking of the author of blog post about finding silver linings, which he even admits involves rationalizing:
The desire to find positivity must be there. You may have to delve deeply to find something good in what you are experiencing, but there will always be something and there will always be someone else in the world who is either worse off than you are, or at least going through something similar. Stuff happens to all of us, we call it Life!
Gratitude is an essential part of life. We should be practicing gratitude every day. Focusing on what we have allows us to face and understand the hurdles and obstacles that life sends our way. Living in the here and now, even when faced with loss or terminal illness, allows us to make every second count. Time that we cannot bring back. Sometimes the silver lining is that by experiencing something that ultimately doesn’t help you, does help others….
We can also arm ourselves by looking after ourselves, both mentally and physically. Connecting with nature and putting technology aside. Going back to basics and appreciating small moments. All these things encourage us to be positive by default. When we are then faced with a challenge in life, we are better prepared to face it and find that Silver Lining…
All of that is fine, except when the “silver lining” allows one to ignore or minimize a greater harm, and to trust someone that isn’t trustworthy. That’s what unethical people want us do, and because most people are wired to be forgiving and generous, the unethical among us are often enabled to continue causing harm because luck or calculation provides a little bit of good to distract potential critics from necessary judgments.
Positivity is a form of self-deception, like all rationalizations. It has its value in moderation., but it also can be used to obfuscate, distort and deceive, when what is needed is a clear-eyed, unsentimental assessment of what went wrong, and who was responsible.