By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Negativity Bias and a Timely Tangent
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Olympians from country after country, including an inspiring team of refugees, strode proudly into a cheering arena. NBA stars, well-known Olympians and anonymous athletes from all around the globe wore the same huge, infectious and uninhibited smiles.
The Parade of Nations during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics last Thursday night was spectacular. The organic joy and global comradery was a welcomed tonic. If the moment grabbed you, it should have. Frankly, it should have grabbed us all. Our minds are under constant attack by real and important media bombardments of racial division, complex political struggles and worldwide terrorism. This necessary but brutal truth threatens our faith in our species, our common humanity and the humble desire we all share: to live in peace and to cultivate a world for our children that is a little more decent than the one we navigated.
To keep the gale force winds of corruption, violence and evil from extinguishing our flickering hope candles, it is important to remind ourselves that the vast majority of earthlings can’t fathom belittling, disrespecting, discriminating against or terrorizing another human based on differences in gender, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin or any other differentiating factor. We want to live. We want to love. We just want to be.
Most of us, that is, but not all of us.
The minority who do not, the peddlers of darkness who purposely cultivate fear and anxiety, often dominant the headlines. The media has the responsibility to report, of course, but the human psyche and the economics of limited space and endless consumer options heavily influence the message. Hate, horrific acts and apocalyptic declarations get eyes on papers and (more importantly now) entice clicks. Shock and awe sells. That’s why weather-dependent programs lust for any and every atmospheric disturbance and name storms (and embellish the impact) with anything over a 48-hour life expectancy.
This is all evidence of what the psychology community would call the negativity bias - the human tendency to remember and to be impacted more significantly by negative than positive events. Fighting this innate urge and maintaining a glass half full outlook while disturbing events are reported from sea to shining sea and all over the world is, quite literally, a mental wrestling match.
Every time the compulsive negativity is restrained after processing the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Aurora, Colorado, Virginia Tech, Charleston, South Carolina, the Navy Yard and Baltimore, Maryland, there are more incomprehensible insults to our optimism.
Orlando. Paris. Dallas. Nice. Baton Rouge. Turkey…
So yeah, every now and then, we need something like the Olympics, the opening ceremony and the Parade of Nations to combat the negative bias and remind ourselves of decency and spirit that still exists in the world and its most sophisticated inhabitants. Obviously there’s much to criticize about these Rio Games – Zika, Russian doping issues, bacteria-filled waterways and the poor infrastructure that was slapped together just-in-time (or not-quite-in-time). There is also the environmental stain left behind at past Olympic venues and the perpetual corruption of the International Olympic Committee.
I get it. I’m not blind to it. Frankly, I started this piece with the intent of criticizing the choice of fellow Marylander Michael Phelps - he of two DUI arrests, a 2014 suspension from USA Swimming and documented marijuana use – as the flag bearer for the United States Olympic team. There were better choices – literally hundreds of them. Phelps, in his fifth Olympics, didn’t need the additional attention and despite his 22 Olympic medals (the most ever), he didn’t deserve to be the symbol for the United States Olympic team. His swimming talent has raised Old Glory many times; his performance out of the pool didn’t warrant him raising it ahead of the Rio Games.
But then the overwhelming beauty of the Parade of Nations – thousands of athletes from around the world celebrating their countries, themselves and global athletic competition – overwhelmed my negativity bias of Phelps, hijacked this article sent it in a far more important direction. I’m thankful for the tangent. Now there’s something I never said in geometry class.