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The Seduction of Bad News

If It Bleeds It Leads


“There is within each heart a hidden voice that calls out for freedom and creativity. We often linger for years in spaces that are too small and shabby for the grandeur of our spirit.”
- John O’Donohue |To Bless the Space Between Us

It's been ten years since I founded Living With Inner Elegance. In that time I've explored numerous monthly topics in articles, podcasts, videos and radio shows. Metrics show the subject that continues to receive the most attention: Hurt? What are You Going to Do? This is an exploration of how we react when feeling hurt and its consequences. Despite the many good things that happen, we tend to focus disproportionately on the negative aspects of life.

Positive news, for example, tends to get buried under a cacophony of doom and gloom. Here's a sample of some recent positive developments that have received scant attention: an FBI Report showing a significant decrease in crime during 2023; an updated study recording a rise in empathy among young Americans; the 2024 World Happiness Report reporting a global increase in people helping others; stronger economic data than predicted; for the first time, a baby born deaf can now hear thanks to cutting-edge gene therapy.

In news broadcasting, there is a saying, "If it bleeds, it leads." American Newspaper Publisher William Randolph Hearst coined this phrase at the end of the 1890s when he realized that stories involving horrifying incidents sold more papers. Why does negativity have this gravitational pull that is so highly seductive?

For one reason, the subjects and purveyors of positivity and good news tend to be more modest and less likely to be self-aggrandizing with their announcements and achievements. For example, even after a cancer diagnosis, hip surgery and 14 stitches to the head, Former President Jimmy Carter was still building houses with Habitat for Humanity at the age of ninety-five—an extraordinary achievement that isn't going to make headlines.

Throughout history each generation was prone to some version of the collective belief that we're not going to survive, we've lost our way and things used to be better. From an evolutionary survival point of view, it makes sense to keep a close watch on destructive and potentially harmful events. A beautiful spring day will not get our attention as does a tornado. This human trait permeates everything we do. We rarely forget an insult or a negative incident. We are distracted by even the minutest speck of dirt on a white shirt. Negative political strategies stick like glue when proven to be based on misinformation.

Psychologists refer to this as "negative bias" and scans show that when subjected to negativity, our brains produce a greater electrical charge than when exposed to something positive. Most of us are fortunate not to constantly worry about fleeing or fighting when our immediate physical safety is in peril. Still this survival mechanism doesn't switch off even when we're safe.

Negativity also gives us additional emotional boosts: Seeing someone else's shame or misfortune can make us feel better about our lives. "Well, at least I don't have that to deal with…" It can make us feel self-righteous and self-satisfied. "I'd never do that…" It can be used to certify our beliefs. "The world is dreadful, and here's the proof…"

Staying informed is crucial; fixating on the world's unkindness, cruelty and immorality is not. It's a drain on our time, energy, and resources. A bias towards the negative gives us a distorted perception of our world. Judging others on their wrongdoings blinds us to many caring, kind, and open hearts.

Amidst the abundance of negativity, it's our personal responsibility to actively seek the decency and caring in others. By doing so, we promote the good side, helping to balance the dialogue and perspective. There are numerous individuals and organizations we can support that are bringing us good news. Among them is Rick Schneider, the Up & Running Morning Show host on WKZE. Rick always precedes my Inner Elegance spot with his "Now for The Good News" segment which he researches daily and delivers hourly.

There is a wealth of good news, daily acts of kindness and caring that often go unnoticed. There will always be more. Immerse yourself in positivity, recognize its value to your heart, mind and spirit. As the late John O'Donohue beautifully put it, "There is within each heart a hidden voice that calls out for freedom and creativity. We often linger for years in spaces that are too small and shabby for the grandeur of our spirit."