The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. -

William James

Just about everyone has heard of Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking. Since it was first published in 1952, this self-help classic has sold around 20 million copies in 42 languages.

For more than half a century untold millions have been transformed by this book, including me. My maternal grandmother introduced me to Peale's writings in my teenage years and the positive effects remain with me to this day.

Yes, there is a power in positive thinking. There is also a power in negative thinking. No, I am not referring to the dangers of being a negative thinker. I am instead referring to the positive effects of saying "No."

Winston Churchill used to quote Alexander the Great who said, "The Persians would always be slaves because they did not know how to pronounce the word 'No.'"

Yes, there are times we must learn to say "No." Accentuating the negative can be enormously positive. Life is made up of these kinds of choices. Here are two examples:

1. Right vs. Wrong - These decisions are usually obvious. Debate is not necessary. We know the catastrophic consequences if we place a toe over certain lines. One stupid decision can ruin an entire life. Then, saying "no" is extremely positive.

2. Good, Better vs. The Best - Some choices can get very complicated. Priorities matter. I may be concerned with developing a career or running a marathon or acquiring a degree. How do those priorities blend with other life priorities?

Jim Collins begins his well-received book Good to Great with these words, "Good is the enemy of the great." He goes on to say that we don't have great schools, great government, or even great people because we settle for having good schools, good government and good people.

I remember some years ago when I was research deep in my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Minnesota. Needless to say, my schedule was full and running over. Frequently my sons would ask, "Dad, can we go play tennis?" I had my academic goal to finish in five years. I was also working full time. I was focused and emersed in the tasks at hand. To what should one say "no"?

Previously a friend told me, "There are a lot of good things that need to be done in the world but you can't do them all." To this day, I do not regret taking seven years to complete my degree rather than to sacrifice my best years with Darin and Kevin.

Pecan pie is good but is that best if I'm trying to lose weight? Watching a favorite TV program or playing a video game may be good, but is that best if I'll have no time for reading that book? Making lots of money by working overtime may be good but is that best if it will cause me to lose touch with my spouse?

The power of negative thinking. The gardener says "no" to the wrong plants (weeds) and grows a horticultural masterpiece. The author says "no" to the wrong words and writes a literary masterpiece. The sculptor says "no" to the unnecessary stone and carves an artistic masterpiece. The builder says "no" to meaningless project and constructs a useful masterpiece.

Even Norman Vincent Peale's wife said "no" to him. Peale was in his fifties when he wrote his famous book and had received nothing but a stack of rejection slips. Dejected, he threw the manuscript into the wastebasket, and forbade his wife to remove it. She took him literally, next day presenting the manuscript inside the wastebasket to the successful publisher. The rest is history.

The power of negative thinking. Learning to say "no" may be one of the most positive things we could ever do.

Think about it.

Editor's note: Dr. Meyer is president of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville. Responses can be mailed to

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