There was a strange thought that entered my mind the other day. Well, it isn’t exactly strange, but rather what’s strange about it is that I never made the connection before. It’s one of those “duh” moments.
Anyway, there’s this old story about a guy standing up in a church talking about all the wonderful things that he did for the community, such as building an orphanage by hand, or taking care of people, etc, etc, and he bemoans of how no one ever talks about those wonderful things or acknowledges that he did them… but he then says, “but fuck one goat…” and you know where that punchline goes.
This is about what we all choose to focus on and how inherently negative we all are. We find the negative in a cloud of beauty… or as I heard before, we “can find the dark cloud in a sky of silver linings.” We all focus so much on the negatives that it is as though the positives fail to promote themselves.
Another favorite of mine is a quote from a character in The Legend of Korra/Avatar: The Last Airbender. Uncle Iroh, who is always filled with pithy, wise sayings, tells Korra in an episode: “If you look for the light, you can often find it. But if you look for the dark, that is all that you’ll ever see.”
I get it. From an evolutionary perspective, it is a good thing to be wary of danger, to be on alert for the bad stuff that might be a threat to our well-being. Maybe since we all live in relative peace, with so little overt threats that are brain is instead finding things that are only harmful to our ego to rail against as life-threatening, but there are varying degrees to which we as people focus.
The other day, I was doing a chore that I do every day. It got me thinking, does anyone even notice? If I didn’t do it, would someone notice?
The answer is: “yes.” But it isn’t out of what should be appreciation, a positive view of things. It is out of negativity that we notice these things. I’ve been lectured, past and present, innumerably on not having done something that I normally always had done. The reaction depends on the overall view of the person, being positive or negative.
A negative view will have the person see it just as the congregation sees the goat-f-er up there. All the positives are washed away by the negative. Perform a task everyday? Nope. Not anymore. Based on the evidence, “you never take care of this!”
And it seems so untrue, but when you are negative, each and every negative event is what is cataloged and remembered, not the positive, so only the dozen or so times in history that you messed up becomes the only evidence that was taken in. The rest of the time, that evidence that would run counter to the negative is washed away, forgotten events that didn’t raise an eyebrow.
Sounds bleak. It does. Yet it exemplifies the quote from Uncle Iroh. When we are looking for threats, danger, or negative, it is what we are primed to catch. Anything not negative can be easily brushed aside, forgotten quickly so that we can turn as soon as a negative event crops up. It doesn’t mean that the positive events don’t happen; it means that we become numb to positive events. No matter the frequency, the positive becomes rare and sporadic compared to the bad, for no other reason than perspective.
Now, in reading Law of Success by Napoleon Hill, he spends a lot of time on the idea of being positive as people do not want to interact with someone who is negative. This seems almost trivial, because we all know negative people, people who will find that dark cloud in a sky of silver linings. We may even be “good” friends with these people. Yet, as good a friend as they might be, we avoid them. I can think of one for certain of a person from my past who I avoided because the person could find the bad no matter how well it hides.
Again, it is about focus too. Positive events can come and go, and we see them. We even acknowledge that they come. But we let the events come and then go, or we then expect the reciprocal negative event. So good becomes a fleeting concept.
What if instead of the bad, we focused on the good? What if we chose to always give more energy to recognizing what goes right, to look for those silver linings in the sky of dark clouds?
I’ve told my son for some time that if you think positive, you get positive results. Over the past year, I’ve amended that slightly to incorporate the idea that it doesn’t absolve the world of bad things happening, rather, it’s a strategy to avoid getting locked into the cycle of negative thinking. And it is difficult. With the amount of negativity or obstacles in the way of progress, positive thinking is a very difficult endeavor.
Yet I believe that it is important.
I’ve seen firsthand the awful results of holding onto a negative outlook. I got stuck, unable to punch my way out of the situation because everything was bad. But in fact, it wasn’t all that bad. What I had needed was to look at things differently to enable myself the capacity to move forward instead of cowering backwards.
Lately, that struggle has been renewed as life will always throw a pitch intended to strike out the player. What I have found though is that in my recent experiences, repressing the urge to turn negative and instead taking the effort to go positive, though exhausting at first, has helped me recover quicker from incidents that would have otherwise put me out for a long time. It helped me get the energy to figure out solutions to the problems I was seeing, rather than only seeing another problem.
Positive thinking doesn’t mean the world will always be a wonderful place, but if you keep looking, it might just be.