Rationalization #3A, Pollyanna’s Mantra, or “Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining”


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.

31 thoughts on “Rationalization #3A, Pollyanna’s Mantra, or “Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining”

  1. This reminds me of a song lyric by John Prine.
    The song is entitled “The Accident (Things Could Be Worse).”

    Last night I saw an accident
    On the corner of Third and Green
    Two cars collided and I got excited
    Just being part of that scene

    It was Mrs. Tom Walker and her beautiful daughter
    Pamela was driving the car
    They got hit by a man in a light blue sedan
    Who had obviously been to a bar

    They don’t know how lucky they are
    They could have run into that tree
    Got struck by a bolt of lightning
    And raped by a minority

  2. Would there be a converse Rationalization for the terminally cynical?

    I took this opportunity to re-read the Rationalization List. It is an excellent compilation, but depressing, as I find Rationalization after Rationalization to which I have personally fallen prey. Somewhere, somehow in the education system this should be required study (that itself is probably a Pollyanna).

  3. Son: “Dad, I’m going to flunk that geometry test tomorrow.”

    Dad: “Son, think positive.”

    Son: “You’re right; I’m positive I’m going to flunk that geometry test tomorrow.”

    • Batty: Nobody cares about me.

      Zak: I do you, bat-man.

      Batty: You sure?

      Zak: I’m positive.

      Batty: Only fools are positive.

      Zak: Are you sure?

      Batty: I’m positive…

      [as Zak laughs]

      Batty: I fell for it! I should have known!


      There was a total of 47 donors to the GoFundMe fundraiser. No one donated over $100. There was a total of $2,267.00 raised and after the GoFundMe fees I sent a check to Jack for $2,187.10. The check is literally in the mail as of 1:45 today 10/16/2020.

      Thanks to everyone that participated in this successful gift for Jack at Ethics Alarms.

  4. Rationalization #3A, Pollyanna’s Mantra, or “Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining”

    This is a timely addition.

    Not more than a week ago I was having a discussion with someone I’ve known for a long time about how they were completely ignoring the patterns of untrustworthiness of someone else we both know when out of the blue the other person in the discussion stated exactly what you wrote, “every cloud has a silver lining”. I couldn’t sway them from their dive into an abyss of rationalizations and I ended up saying quite bluntly “you’re enabling [name redacted] to be irresponsible” which is exactly what they have been doing for a number of years. This is a common problem for people who are close friends or family to someone that abuses alcohol or drugs.

    • “Perfectly Reasonable Rationalization”: We couldn’t have gotten to the moon if it weren’t for Hitler’s V2 program.

      Also “The widows and cripples of old London town owe their large pensions to Werner von Braun”.
      -Tom Lehrer

  5. I’ll try to keep this rationalization in mind if Biden wins the the election which he has a very good chance of doing. “Alway look on the bright side of life.”

    • They don’t give the margins of error for the polls. I’ve seen it too often this season that “Biden over takes Trump!” is breathlessly reported, only for the alleged lead to be dwarfed by a margin of error of 10% +/-.

  6. So here is what I believe to be an appropriate use of the ‘silver lining’ thing.

    When I fell several years ago and ruptured my quadriceps tendon, I ended up with a bit of permanent impairment — my leg/knee never quite regained their full strength. Not to mention that I developed an infection that was in my bloodstream, requiring them to redo the surgery and put me on IV antibiotics for 6 weeks. So that’s bad, right?

    But there’s a silver lining — these same events impelled me to quit smoking, which is good. I also was forced to quit my old job and move to only doing tax preparation, which is something I can do for a lot longer than my previous job. Those things were good..

    But, the point of this recap is that my silver lining didn’t require me to do or overlook something that was bad in order to gain that silver lining. I think this is more what people ideally think of when they use the phrase.

    • I appreciate your comment – am grateful to be provoked to think more (with more gratitude) about what Jack calls moral luck.

  7. My response to the Pollyanna Pedant (flat tone): “Would you like me to pinch you now or will you come out of it on your own?” I’ve only gotten to use it twice,most recently at the end of March, on a woman who tossed off a merry “Oh, the news people made up this Chinese flu thing to stir us up because everything is going so well these days.” Her reaction to me was a total blank, and a “hmm?” But it got a laugh from another woman who overheard it. We got into a conversation about Hayley Mills (a bit of a Pollyanna herself, becoming at one point a Hari Krishna fan, and later crediting her cancer cure to “alternative therapies”), and the President … all without coming to frowns, much less blows. We’ve been good friends ever since. Except that ever now and then one of us reaches over and tries to pinch the other.

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