Ever notice how so many aspects of the world seem to be depressing and saturated with constant negativity? Over the last few years, I have developed a theory as to why.
Back in college, I majored in chemical engineering and so many of my analogies return to what I know. One of the concepts you learn about is the concept of positive and negative feedback. In positive feedback, a system’s response is magnified above the magnitude of the initial disturbance. With negative feedback the system response is deadened and the resultant response is lower than the initial disturbance. Like nearly all engineering principles, this has a practical application to one’s daily life.
We are surrounded by negativity in nearly every aspect of our communication, and that is a byproduct (ironically) of the positive feedback of our social interactions. Take a look at social media and take note of the number of shares a positive story receives compared to a negative or inflammatory one. There is an old newspaper expression that goes “If it bleeds, it leads,” and that sentiment has crossed over into social media.
People are much more likely to share things that they think justify their preconceived anger or disgust at some other group or person, rather than sharing something they enjoy. How often do you notice yourself or a “friend” sharing something that might challenge their own preconceptions?
But it’s not just social media, it’s also in traditional social situations. Coworkers and friends are more likely to share some “juicy” detail that knocks a colleague down than celebrating their success. In fact, if someone mentions some good fortune they have had, often others will put that person down (out of earshot of course) for “showing off” or bragging. On the other had, if they run an ex through the ground, people will often lend sympathy and encourage this behavior. Well, until that person is also out of earshot and then their confidants make them fair game for criticism.
It even extends to the dating world. In that miserable time I made the honest mistake (not really) of going into it looking for the good parts of potential mates, while tempering those with the bad. However, from my experience it seems most men and women go through a long laundry list of immediately disqualifying traits without ever looking for the good. This was actually to my benefit as I effortlessly had the effort of discernment taken from me and I finally met my wife who shares my outlook. Relationships should not be a contest to see who can win the upper hand. We should also not be the first to be cruel of others to prevent them from being cruel first to us.
Now many of you are thinking you don’t contribute to the problem, but consider the following. How many times have you contacted a manager when a waiter has given you great service as opposed to complaining when something, even a small thing, was wrong? How many times have you “dished” with a coworker to talk about how another coworker has been doing well or how a boss maintains a good working environment? When you are in traffic, how many times do you let someone in when they signal a lane change and how many times do you hit the accelerator to block them out? When someone is being nice, do you look for an ulterior motive or accept their kindness at face value?
So how can this negativity be combated? In another case of irony, we can fight it with negative feedback.
When you see or hear negative stories, STOP SHARING IT. You are simply magnifying its presence in your life and making your own social environment worse. This includes stories from other states that have no bearing on your life that websites publish to turn your outrage into profit.
Be courteous to others and do not tolerate friends and acquaintances who are discourteous to others. There is no reason to put others in their “place”. All one is doing is passing along the currency of their own foul mood to someone who will in turn pass it on to someone else. Instead, break the cycle, use negative feedback.
Give people the benefit of doubt. Stop using conjecture to fill in the motives of other people’s action to make them a villain. The lure of righteous indignation is an addictive drug that gives quite a high, but like a drug, it distorts reality and causes long term problems. Instead, think of the possible ways that it might be a misunderstanding on your part or their part. Give people a wide berth and stop finding ways of getting angry at them.
Finally, be generous with your love and resources. Treat people as you would like to be treated on your worst day. Assume they have had a bad day and it’s your job to cheer them up. Say thank you and excuse me twice as is necessary and round up your tips.
And if ever you’re feeling mad, sad or frustrated, find someone else to help. Few things make one happier than extending a hand to help another. Instead of contributing to all that make us feel miserable, you’ll be using the negative (feedback) to make the positive possible.