Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pessimism, positive thinking, and horse poop

I was reminded recently how much I hate the following anecdote. It goes, more or less like this:

A little boy is given a pile of poop as a gift. Instead of being sad, he is gleeful and starts playing in the scat. When asked why, he says "With this much poop there's got to be a pony somewhere!"

Cute story. But back in the day, when I was much, much (much) younger, this story always gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have always thought it a horrible motivator, because this logic makes no sense.

First off, what kind of pile of poop is so incredibly big that it can hide an entire horse? Either a ginormous pile, or a very small pony, and both are unlikely scenarios.

Second of all, just because there's poop doesn't mean a pony is nearby. It means a pony was nearby. But the pony could have just as well rode off. The little boy may be happy now, but soon enough, he'll be sorely disappointed. And that makes my inner child cry.

Now, the thing is, there are certainly ways to spin this story so that the little boy comes out on top of the heap, so to speak.

1. If the boy is a gardener, he's got a wonderful fertilizer for his fruits and vegetables.
2. If he's not a gardener, but he has entrepreneurial spirit, he can package and sell the horse poop to others who are.
3. If he's just fallen off of a horse, the horse poop, though uncomfortable, could cushion his fall.

And so on.

I just wish that motivational peoples would be a little more realistic when they tell this type of story. With a little bit of creative thinking, the story can be turned into something realistic and motivating. Because otherwise, if you're someone who is into critical thinking, or has a pessimistic/realistic worldview, this story's not gonna sway them.