In the wrong hands, there’s nothing more destructive than positive thinking and nobody illustrates this better than Nasir Jones (Nas to his friends). He first wound me up with his terribly annoying I Can, which features kiddies chanting the mantra, ‘I know I can (I know I can) / Be what I wanna be (be what I wanna be) / If I work hard at it (If I work hard at it) / I’ll be where I wanna be (I’ll be where I wanna be)’.
Positive thinkers will think this is wonderful. But the problem is, to quote Limp Bizkit, Nas’s ‘mouth’s writing cheques his ass can’t cash’. There he is promising Oprah Winfrey shows to every little girl who fancies it. It can only end in tears.
Anyway. Now we have Bridging the Gap, a collaboration with his father Olu Dara (listen here), that’s actually pretty good. More relevantly, it explains Nas’s eternal optimism as Olu admits promising his son over and over, ‘He’ll be the greatest man alive, the greatest man alive’. So Nas seems to prove the power of a positive upbringing.
Yet for every person like Nas there are many more who, throughout her childhoods, never had any reason to believe they would – or even could – fail. I once attended an Institute of Public Relations awards lunch to which some students had been invited and all had classic symptoms of positive upbringing. They chatted excitedly about joining a big name London consultancy. But those firms would take on maybe a couple of dozen graduates, while thousands would apply. No matter how positive you are, the numbers simply don’t add up and most of these kids were destined to fall hard.