I just read a review of a new (to be published sometime this week) book I’m thinking that I may want to add to my Library: “The Power of Bad: How the Negativity-Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It”. Kind of an awkward title, and, at first glance, maybe a little redundant? I mean, most of us have read – ad nauseum– about the power of positive thinking and the need to recognize and affirm what’s good in our lives. Like attracts Like. But the authors, Tierney and Baumeister, seem to provide (if the review’s to be trusted) a slightly tweaked step-by-step process in their “low bad diet”. Again, the language quoted directly from the book strikes me as a little cute.
Still, I’m always intrigued by new coping strategies beyond how to survive grim and crazy world events. I need to think more immediately and closer to ‘home’: how I can apply this type of knowledge (plenty of research cited in this book, by the way) to day to day relationships? For example: Why, the authors ask, does so much of our thinking (as we interact with others) project a kind of negative bias? Especially when it comes to how others communicate to us.
In my earlier-life relationships – romantic or familial, especially – I recall that I did pretty much exactly what Tierney and Baumeister say that many people do: allow any criticism to pierce my self confidence in painful and permanent ways, while almost instantly forgetting any form of positivity or praise. It helps to know that, according to these authors, there’s actually a reason why we humans tend to do this. Turns out, the way that our minds have evolved to pay attention to, and focus on what scares or threatens us is actually an ancient survival mechanism run amok. We don’t need to be worried, or in fear, or hyper-aggressive (defensive) all the time; but we are. This is where the book (review) really started to grab my interest.
As things go in my experience, no sooner had I finished reading the lengthy synopsis of the book when I had the opportunity to feel myself in action: someone I know fairly well unloaded his Bad Day, Bad Life, Bad Attitude on me, as I was just going about my business. There was a time that I would have automatically assumed – irrationally — that I’d said or done something that triggered this outburst of Bad. But over the years (and through trial-and-error living) I concluded that ill-tempered and aggressive people seem to crave, and seek, attention through tension. They don’t want to be talked away from the ledge of negativity. They’ve somehow gotten “stuck” in a negative-bias framework of existence. I’ve always called them, collectively, Black Holes.
Unless and until I choose to go into hermit-mode, I know that my life is always going to be filled with people, and a sliding-scale or spectrum of relationships: close connections, loose acquaintances, and random strangers in my Lyft. And, they’re all going to provide a way of practicing what I’ve learned over time – and what I believe that authors Tierney and Baumeister are teasing out in their book.
One of the earliest social psychologists concluded that there are really only two emotions in the human experience: Fear, and Love. I’m still working on juggling, or balancing, my own fears (separating the healthy, from the not-so-much): my ‘living bravely’ mantra and practice keeping me in harmony with my Self. I’m not at the point that I can say that I fully embrace and ‘love’ the person whose misplaced anger and harsh words still have the power to put me off balance: sometimes for hours at a time. But I’m getting better at recognizing negative-bias messages and responding with compassion.
Having said that, Living Bravely also means having the courage to walk away from Black Holes when, sadly, ‘darkness’ has become a lifestyle. We all have an obligation, say Tierney and Baumeister, to make our best attempt as we avoid causing harm to one another. Awareness of our own tendency to ‘assume the worst’ about ourselves, and others, seems like a good first step.