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Magical Thinking

John W. Pinkerton


The other day I was working on a painting.  I say “working” because I was trying to save it.  It was an old one that I had hoped I could save and have it appeal to someone who was willing to part with their money. 

I changed a small color area here and altered a small space there.  I then realized that I wasn't improving the painting at all.  I don't think I had done any damage, but I knew that I certainly hadn't improved the painting.

I realized that I wasn't really addressing the problem with the painting.  The painting was based on an actual children's drawing that I had seen on the internet.  It had good qualities, but it was lacking something…the problem was in the face of the figure.  It needed some pretty heavy highlights.  But that would be hard, tricky, requiring care and skill.  It was so much easier to make the minor alterations.  I had gotten caught up in my magical thinking believing these little details would improve the painting.  Not so.  Like many things in life, I was avoiding the real problem by working on something I perceived to be easy.  I was seeking a convenient answer.

Magical thinking replaces our actual connection with the world with a false connection, one which only exists in our minds, not in the real world.

I've always believed that I have been well grounded…a person aware of one's surroundings and my relationship to them.  It was a little disconcerting when I realized that I had wandered off into magical thinking…something I consider quiet dangerous and harmful.

During the time that I had been working on the painting, I had been quite ill, influenza and bronchitis.  Perhaps my illness was the cause of my deviation from my normal approach to my painting…and my life.

I must present you with other examples of magical thinking to help your understanding.

The easiest and most obvious example is a political one which I have been trying to avoid lately.  Many Democrats have called for President  Trump's impeachment from the day he was elected and this without any substantiated charges---just based on hatred.  Their irrational hatred of the man overcame their ties to reality.  They wished it were possible; therefore, in their minds it was…magical thinking, not helpful.


I'll give you an example of magical thinking on a miniscule level.  When I was teaching, there were a few minutes left over in the class period one day.  I got the attention of a young fellow who looked as though he were part of the cast of Spankey and the Gang whom, I believe, fancied himself a tough guy.  I placed a quarter in the palm of my hand and asked him to place the back of his hand across my palm.  I told him to take the coin from my hand any time he chose.  Smirking, he flipped his hand, but I still had the coin.  His response was, “You can't do that.”  We then reversed roles.  I easily took the coin from his palm.  His response once again was, “You can't do that.”  Magical thinking.  It never occurred to him to ask how I had accomplished the feat.  It was more comfortable for him to simply deny the event had ever occurred.  Realizing that he was not interested in learning, I responded to him by saying, “But…I just did.”

We employ magical thinking often when we are dealing with other human beings.  “Love” is often the culprit here.  Although we know a gal or a fella is far from perfect, we imagine that we can change them into the ideal mate.  Excuse me while I vomit on this idea and God and I laugh at your plans.

I guess some folks are just naturally magical thinkers.  That's a hard life.  The rest of us will continue to try to stay within the limits of reality.  Good luck to all.