“Just about every measure of human well-being has improved
except for one: hope.
The healthier we become, the gloomier our worldview.”
—John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister—
Pause on the above quote for a moment. Let it sink it. What do you think creates the disconnect?
In their recent book, The Power of Bad: And How to Overcome It, Tierney and Baumeister attribute the seeming contradiction to the negativity effect. Some call it negativity bias, negativity dominance, or positivity discounting. Whatever the concept label, research shows that people have an irrational impulse to consider one (negative) thing and ignore the broader (more positive) picture.
We catastrophize as we fixate on a single negative event while discounting the positives that surround us. The negative has such and impact that it will override one, two, or three uplifting actions. There is a great deal of good around us—but how often does the focus goes to the bad?
Crisis mongers know this and seize on it. How many times does the “news” start with a “Breaking News Alert!”? (Often.) And how many times is that “Breaking News Alert!” about a positive story? (Seldom.) Or a politician grabs hold of an isolated event only to use it as “evidence” that our world is threatened. Our discomfort provides an opening of opportunity for the crisis monger. More emphasis on the threat creates fear, which brings about more coverage and anxiety.
Tierney and Baumeister remind us that “The Merchants of Bad” (found in news, politics, and social media, for instance) want us to fret and squirm. Regardless of the good, they focus on the bad. And they have found a power in bad. They focus, we shake.
Research speaks of the (again, according to the authors) Rule of Four: It takes (roughly speaking) four positive things to overcome one negative turn of events. When confronted with a “bad” (an insult, a broken promise, an unkind word, an action), any previous “good” is more than likely to be overshadowed. A mental health counselor told me that the rule can be as high as 6 to 1 when it comes to marital issues. One transgression can wipe out a half-dozen well-intentioned actions.
A Russian proverb holds that “a spoonful of tar can spoil a barrel of honey, but a spoonful of honey does nothing for a barrel of tar.”
It takes a lot more “good” to overcome a “bad,” then it does for a “bad” to wipe out all the preceding “good.” It interferes with life. It has an impact on hope. We end up fixating on one negative of the past or the unknown what if of the future. We end up on a runaway train of negativity and lose touch with the present. Especially the good in the present.
Be a discerning and critical thinker as you read about bad. It has real power to override the good that surrounds us daily.
The authors suggest we place ourselves on a low-bad diet. For instance, “when politicians and pundits are assailing each other, switch channels. If you try to follow the Rule of Four by watching four uplifting stories for every bad one, you’ll spend a lot less time on all-news stations.”
Add more honey. Limit the tar.
Video Recommendation for the Week
Sometimes we need to stop, breathe, and contextualize. Here is a simple breathing exercise to help focus on the breath, if only for a few seconds to regain our bearings. It is a Zen technique called Breath Counting.
Make it a great week and HTRB has needed.
My new book has been released.
eBook ($2.99) Paperback ($9.99). Click here.
Roxie Looks for Purpose Beyond the Biscuit.
Well, actually, my dog Roxie gets top billing on the author page for this work. Without her, there would be no story.
Click here for more information about the book.
In the meantime, check out her blog.
And you can still order:
- My book, Community as a Safe Place to Land (2019), (print and e-book) is available on More information (including seven free podcast episodes that spotlight the seven core values highlighted in the book) at www.stevepiscitelli.com.
- Check out my book Stories about Teaching, Learning, and Resilience: No Need to be an Island (2017). It has been adopted for teaching, learning, and coaching purposes. I conducted (September 2019) a half-day workshop for a community college’s new faculty onboarding program using the scenarios in this book. Contact me if you and your team are interested in doing the same. The accompanying videos would serve to stimulate community-building conversations at the beginning of a meeting.
My podcasts can be found at The Growth and Resilience Network®.
You will find more about what I do at www.stevepiscitelli.com.
©2020. Steve Piscitelli
The Growth and Resilience Network®