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Multi-Level Marketing: The Dangers of Avoiding Negativity

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Kschang knows a fair amount about frauds, scams, Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes, and multi-level marketing.

Multi -evel marketing scams

Multi -evel marketing scams

Should We Avoid "Dream Stealers?"

In a forum about multi-level marketing (MLM), I encountered the term "dream stealer." The writer was using the term to mean a person to be avoided at all costs.

The term intrigued me, so I looked it up. To my surprise, the definition is very simple: a "dream stealer," to MLM participants, is anyone who tells the participants "no" in various forms, such as "you will fail," "it's illegal," "it won't work," and so on and so forth.

This both delighted me and worried me.

It delighted me because I believe it's good business to keep a generally positive attitude toward life and any opportunity. But it worried me because unwarranted optimism is akin to faith, and that smacks of religion, not business.

So I looked into this issue of "dream stealers," and what I found really worried me. A lot of these supposed "motivational coaches" of MLM, in addition to teaching various "attraction" methods, marketing and recruiting techniques, and so on, also tell readers to completely ignore "dream stealers," as negativity to be avoided at all costs.

My concern is that negativity comes in two types: rational and irrational. Rational negativity makes sense; irrational negativity does not. Ignoring irrational negativity is fine, but ignoring rational negativity, like "it might be a pyramid scheme," makes absolutely no sense at all.

So, let us study both dimensions of the issue: positivity vs. negativity and rationality vs. irrationality.

Rationality-positivity relationship diagram

Rationality-positivity relationship diagram

Rational Pessimism Is Useful

Rational pessimism is a justified bad feeling about a situation. Rational pessimism is supported by rational thought, logic, and facts.

For example, if a particular MLM opportunity was indicted in court and its top members arrested for fraud, that would clearly tell you that this opportunity is very likely illegal, and you should abandon it quickly. You would have a bad feeling about the opportunity based on facts and rational thoughts.

Clearly, when deciding whether to pursue an opportunity, you need to make sure that your thought process and your logic are not contaminated by biases, such as confirmation bias, sunk-cost bias, and so on, but you cannot afford to ignore rational thoughts. You cannot just dismiss them wholesale.

Irrational pessimism... it's like hoping for the worst

Irrational pessimism... it's like hoping for the worst

Irrational Pessimism Is Dangerous

A human, by nature, is a cautious creature. Millions of years of evolution have honed our sense of survival into fight-or-flight responses. It is much safer to assume that the rustle in the grass ahead is dangerous than it is to ignore it. After all, one rarely dies from a false alarm.

However, when there is no reason to feel bad about a situation, but one does anyway, this feeling leads to paralysis and panic, and then full-blown paranoia.

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Irrational pessimism may sound like, "Everybody's going to die," "Something is about to go wrong," "We should wait it out," or "Don't do anything to upset the status quo." An irrational pessimist hopes that if he avoids doing anything to change a situation, nothing else will change it either. That is not rational thought.

Paranoia is fear taken to the extreme form: afraid of everything and everybody. It is irrational, without reason.

Irrational pessimism is something to be avoided.

What Happens if You Ignore All Negativity?

In one of these "dream stealer" articles, the author encourages the readers to ignore all negativity. However, this would include both rational and irrational negativity, and that is very dangerous.

You are not in the Matrix, and you are not Neo. You cannot just say "there is no spoon" and expect reality to bend to your will.

Rational pessimism has a function, like the pain that your body uses to warn you when you are risking injury. Rational pessimism stops you from doing really stupid and reckless activities, stuff that is simply impossible, or things that should not be done.

If you insist on "positivity," that is, having only positive emotions, you will harbor both rational and irrational optimism. The result of unexamined optimism is recklessness. There is nothing to hold you back, even if you are heading toward a brick wall without protective gear at full speed. No matter how hard you wish it to be true, you can't go through a brick wall by yourself. You cannot dismiss "you cannot go through a brick wall by yourself" as just "negativity," no matter how much optimism or faith you have in irrelevant.

Thus, ignoring all negativity is actually dangerous, as it encourages reckless behavior.

What needs to happen instead is to eliminate most irrational thought. Save a little dose of irrational optimism (sometimes called faith) for the toughest days when you need a little more to get you through, but rational thought must come first.

You and Me Against the World, Really?

There is another danger in avoiding negativity. A person who avoids negativity is a person who can be controlled by a cult.

Dr. Robert J. Lifton wrote a book in 1961 called Thought Reform And The Psychology Of Totalism about "brainwashing" and how it was used to transform people. The first tactic a cult uses to control its members is "milieu control." In Dr. Lifton's own words:

"[Milieu control] tends to be maintained and expressed in several ways: group process, isolation from other people, psychological pressure, geographical distance or unavailability of transportation, and sometimes physical pressure."

Avoiding negativity makes a person susceptible to the three control techniques highlighted above.

  • Group Process. "We are a team!" the upline roared, "and together we will succeed! Nothing will stop us!"
  • Isolation from other people. "Avoid the naysayers," the coach droned. "Only your fellow participants and your upline and I understand you!"
  • Psychological pressure. "You are not going to let the group down, are you? You are not going to slow us down, right?"

I made up those quotes, but you can hear something very similar at an MLM meeting or seminar.

Furthermore, it is no accident that MLM conventions and such are often held at isolated and distant locations such as resorts, cruise ships, and so on: in a place like that, you cannot escape from the sales pitches cloaked as motivation.

All these techniques together, plus the "feel good" atmosphere, creates a "you and me against the world" or "us vs. them" attitude, cementing the cult bonds.

Such pressure is dangerous to those with weak will. You and I, with some rational skepticism, can spot the pressure relatively easily, but more vulnerable people can be absorbed into the flow, taken for every cent they have, and dumped like a ragdoll when they no longer have any value left to the company. It is not uncommon for such people to commit suicide or have their families engage the help of cult deprogrammers.

Avoiding Negativity Equates to Seeking Positivity

When one avoids negativity, one seeks positivity.

However, seeking positivity, as we have explained earlier, gives you a distorted worldview. It makes you reckless when people only tell you what you want to hear, because all of you think alike. There is a reason why "yesman" in English has a negative connotation, and its synonym is sycophant.

Yesman: a flunky, a person of unquestioning obedience.

— Princeton Word Web

What's worse, when you have too many "yesmen" around you, you become one yourself, as you conform to the group. Add to all the cult tactics listed above under milieu control, and you have a genuine cult breeding group. Soon, it'll be "all hail the leader!"

Information is the fuel we use to keep our minds working properly.

— cult expert Steven Hassan, in his book "Combating Cult Mind Control"

Embrace Rationality, Plus a Little Irrational Optimism

When it comes to business, embracing positivity—avoiding all negativity—makes you reckless. It is also a sign of cult behavior and thus should be avoided.

What you should do instead is embrace rationality. Rationally analyze the factors you have under your control, and formulate a plan for your success. Instead of relying on the opinions of others, rationally analyze what they have to say. If they are presenting rational thoughts, consider them; if they are not, thank them, then ignore them.

Save a little bit of that irrational optimism—sometimes called faith—for those "toss-up" situations when you choose to venture a little further into what you cannot foresee, but otherwise, stick to the rational.

Now go out there and live a great life.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Juan Samsel from Charlotte, NC, United States on August 18, 2014:

interesting topic about of "MLM Danger of Seeking Positivity and Avoiding / Ignoring Negativity: rational vs. irrational people"


kschang (author) from San Francisco, CA, USA on June 01, 2013:

Thanks. There were a LOT of angles on MLM that made it look... bad when approached rationally. It is PRIMARILY emotion-based, and relies on personal relations (emotion) instead of business relations (logic).

Poon Poi Ming from Malaysia on June 01, 2013:

Wow, KSChang... it has never occurred to me to look at this angle, although I used to be a nut about positive thinking. Reading your article, you seem to have a very heavy dose of rationality. Yes, these MLM do behave like a church. You get chastised for being blasphemous. Voted UABI!

kschang (author) from San Francisco, CA, USA on January 11, 2012:

I hope it was helpful to someone! :)

qwin from Malaysia on January 11, 2012:

wow deep yet interesting insights

Dream big on December 15, 2011:

One of the toughest things in mom is keeping your head in the game. That is why I put together the to

kschang (author) from San Francisco, CA, USA on November 30, 2011:

@worried -- first, I cannot advise you on vmobile, as I have not studied it. I will make a few generic observations, which I hope will help you ask the right questions and think for yourself.

1) Learn the proper definition of a pyramid scheme, NOT ones told by uplines to people, but straight from the DSAP, the association of direct sellers (MLM companies)

8-point test: is it pyramid scheme or MLM?

2) Shadow the upline for at least a week, and instead of just seeing "how much I made", ask how much he SPENT to make that money, and what exactly did he DO to make that money. Did he (or she) sell products, or just recruit people?

3) Does VMobile offer real products that can be sold at competitive prices? They may have real products, but if their prices are too high it is worthless to you as you can't sell them.

I hope these help you. Feel free to explore the other articles I wrote in the "MLM Wisdom" series. (just above the comments)

worried on November 30, 2011:

hi kschang...

I am from the Philippines.

i have read your blogs on TVI Express and I wanna thank you for the information you shared.

My concern is this...I am planning to invest in vmobile, yes, its also an MLM. after reading this blog, i feel worried... and i dont know if its really worth trying to invest in this business... are you saying that if it's an MLM, then most probably it is a pyramid scam?

they are sharing videos on positivity (example; law of attraction - a documentary).

kschang (author) from San Francisco, CA, USA on August 27, 2011:

@EmpressFelicity -- even worse, when it is for financial gain. That is the very definition of fraud.

EmpressFelicity from Kent, England, UK on August 27, 2011:

Your hub is very sound and commonsensical. Anyone who uses highly emotive and manipulative language when trying to persuade you to do something is always suspect in my book.

GoingOnline on July 17, 2011:

When somebody tells me to avoid negativity I think it's because they are trying to avoid me noticing that they are trying to scam me, or at least making unrealistic promises.

Which is basically why MLM got the bad reputation...

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