Never Saw It Coming: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst

By Karen A. Cerulo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

In The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump offered his readers the secret to his success: “It’s been said that I believe in the power of positive thinking. In fact, I believe in the power of negative thinking. … I always go into a deal anticipating the worst. If you plan for the worst—if you can live with the worst—the good will always take care of itself.”1

Donald Trump is, after all, an American success story. In business circles, he’s lauded as the “comeback kid” and more. So if triumph is indeed one’s aim, shouldn’t Trump’s strategy be part of the game plan? … Perhaps. But it is important to note that the Trump method holds one unexpected glitch. For the strategy to be effective, one must be able to fully anticipate the worst. And in this book, I propose that envisioning the worst may be a more difficult task than it seems.

The worst outcome, the worst fate, the worst of the lot, the worst of times—at first glance, these concepts seem so stark, so clear. Yet as we will see, when individuals, groups, and communities attempt to detail such instances, they often find that worst cases elude definition. In many situations, the worst simply cannot be pinned down. Why would the worst prove problematic to conceive?

Many would argue that the challenge stems from emotional or psychological forces. For some, envisioning the worst may be frightening, even terrifying. Others may see the exercise as too morose and find the task unreasonably depressing and void of all hope. Envisioning the worst may even prove disabling for some, with dismal ideas keeping them from productive action. To be sure, one cannot deny the psychoemotional pitfalls of imagining the worst. But I suggest that there are additional factors at play. Building on theories and ideas forwarded by both cultural and cognitive sociologists,

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