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My endeavor is to delve into certain issues to give you some perspective, help you understand the world better, attempt to understand why we do what we do, and maybe in all of this, make the world teeny-weeny better! 

Disclaimer: It may be a tad bit opinionated!

So, let's get to it...

What makes us all so terrible?

Photo credits: By Thiebaud Faix on Unsplash

Despite taking immense pride in my effective utilization of time that has been ‘allocated’ to me by the Almighty on this planet, I have no qualms in confessing that, the last couple of years, most of that time, has been wasted by me on ruminating, brooding, fretting et al the likes (of emotions). Didn’t clock a particular sale figure I had in mind for a month, and I was quick to start fretting over it. Or a piece of artifact that wasn’t in place on the buffet laid out at a successful catering event I did, and I took no time in getting irritated over that petty abnormality. Someone told me to ‘take it easy’ and I was quick to snap. A friend genuinely shows concern, and my mind was quick to reference a gazillion flaws about that person. Another one pushed me to take ownership of my own shit to pivot a change, and in an instant, in my mind, I was hurtling “who the hell are you?” retorts to him. Some of you might be harsh and call me an asshole or some of you may be kind and call me plain pessimistic. It may sound like me being a tad bit harsh on myself to some too, or you might call me plain insane, but before you do that, let me tell you that this is a common thread that ties us all.

As they say ‘brood but brood constructively.’ I don’t know who said that (maybe I only made that up!) But all this precious self-brooding time gone by has also been a self-reflection time for me. The first and the most obvious thing that clearly stood out from this ‘self-brooding’ time was that – we humans have a strong proclivity to notice the wrong in everything. This is not pessimism, as pessimism is believingly anticipating that things will go bad (you know like the all-pervasive and the notorious Murphy’s Law!) This was not even being cynical, as cynicism is about being constantly distrustful of things which, by the way, could act as a safeguard for you at times, by making you over-cautious. But the second more important thing that did stand out for me, apart from the obvious, was a bit deeper - it not only is our inherent tendency to notice the bad in everything but also our tendency to believe that it is the absolute gospel.

Well, you would be privy to think of it being a post-pandemic stress disorder or a post-event reaction, but this tendency of ours is situation-agnostic or event-agnostic, or circumstance-agnostic. On a mankind-level, our ancestors used this as more of an evolutionary strategy back then, where a hunter who foresaw a threat was the hunter who survived. But even today most of us follow this strategy and we are pretty good at it! You see it in the corporate world, where executives vouch for it by taking into consideration every possible crisis that the mind can rake up as they formulate their priceless business forecasts on excel sheets. You may call this prudence that every crisis that we factor, that is cooked up by our minds, will take us one step further towards survival and in turn towards success. However, notice that - the more negative the predictions are the more intelligent and credible they appear to be. Such is the powerful effect of this disposition that even our super-cool behavioral psychologists have euphemistically termed it as – a negativity bias. Instead of seeing the good, we are as if primed to analyzing ‘what is bad’, or ‘what could be bad’ or ‘there has to be something bad’ or ‘this is bad’ in everything.

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Hold on! Before you go all up in arms for me to ‘be positive’, I hate to break the (bad) news to you, that our minds contain a mechanism that is designed to give priority to the bad (news or info). Researchers have observed that an angry face ‘pops out’ in a crowd of happy faces, but a happy face does not show up in a crowd of angry faces. No mechanism has yet been detected for recognizing the good (news or information). We do respond to opportunities and that’s what advertisers utilize to design the billboards but the threats always trump the opportunities hands down (here also trump!) That’s why you see that emotionally-charged speeches made by people with heavily loaded words attract attention faster (does it ring a bell?). Bad words or phrases (like war, crime, ‘goli maaro’ etc) attract attention faster than happy words or phrases (like peace, love, ‘baithke baat karo’ etc). [1]

We even see this effect in a very mild form in our everyday lives. Ever met a person who almost instantly vomited on just seeing someone else vomit in front of him? (Lol!) Or ever dined with a person, who at the mere mention of the word ‘poop’ (or the Hindi word for it!) almost instantly got up to vomit? In some extremes you see people doing all sorts of crazy things like what we see in the news, though some do things that are simply unconscionable and inexcusable. Some psychologists go one step further and call it –negativity dominance. Like Paul Rozin, who (savvy this!) is an expert on ‘disgust’ says we see this bias and dominance manifesting in our aversion for losses also.[2] An interesting note I came across read this –

Photo Credits: antonbrand by Depositphotos
“Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”

It is because of this that we actually perceive the bad as intellectually more important than the good. It is because of this that the long-term success of any relationship depends far more on avoiding the negative than on seeking or looking or seeing the positive. That’s why terming it as a ‘negativity’ bias only appears to be a euphemism to me, as to my mind this is more like a ‘shitty’ bias that we all have. This is simply how we are programmed (I don’t know by who) This logic is so hardwired into us that we, unfortunately, have to live with it and deal with it as just another routine activity. It’s like our regressive operating system has been written that way and it can’t be deleted or even overwritten. It is probably to hack back this logic that the whole ‘positive-thinking’ industry is thriving on.

Think about it!


Footnotes - [1] Christine Hansen and Ranald Hensen "Finding the Face in the Crowd: An Anger Superiority Effect" from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

[2] Paul Rozin and Edward B. Royzman "Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance and Contagion" from Personality and Social Psychology Review. A brief mention also by Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow.





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