Interesting dynamic occurred in therapy yesterday. I can’t write much now but will hit the main points. I was talking about how I had a line of thought for potential research (I always have a line of thought about some sort of research or other) concerning something I read in "The Negativity Bias" by Royzak and Rozin. I’ve mentioned it in earlier posts and will not repeat it all here. Suffice to say that things are easily contaminated downward but not so easily upward. That is, one small rat turd ruins a whole hell of a lot of cupcake batter, but one little bit of cupcake batter doesn’t make a pile of rat turds any better.
There is a similar theory for positive things called "The Pollyanna Principle" of which I must go read, for there is research supporting both… how can this be?
In walking through the park I thought of those things that strike us as good as being normative and those things as bad as being exceptional. In class this morning, a organizational psychology class dealing with the workplace, it was summed up as such as well. But I sense there is something else going on here as well and that it isn’t quite so tidy as this.
Recall the quote about the stars… http://www.quotegarden.com/night.html
If the Stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
One summer night, out on a flat headland, all but surrounded by the waters of the bay, the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space. Millions of stars blazed in darkness, and on the far shore a few lights burned in cottages. Otherwise there was no reminder of human life. My companion and I were alone with the stars: the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon. It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be see many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they never will. ~Rachel Carson
Yes… it is like that. This supports the negativity bias. For my gods-!!!- what amazing beauty there is in the heavens above.
By night, an atheist half believes in God. ~Edward Young, Night Thoughts
To awaken, periodically, to the splendor that is around me is one of the primary reasons for my rituals outdoors on full moons and for going on hikes. It is an inward pressure that forces me outside into the world, to slow down and to take in the sights and sounds around me. Those sounds, scents, and smells most healing for me are from nature. But I get nourishment from other sources as well. I cannot help but laugh from the depths of my heart when I see a train of kids on a long tether being lead through the park blocks at PSU. Small toddles, all marveling at the many shapes and noises around them, dressed cutely, with bubbling voices and giggles and bright, wide eyes. Such sights and sounds are nourishing indeed. So too the scent of cedar on a damp hillside in the evening. Yet as much as there is pressure to go out, there is pressure to go in, to escape to my thoughts and to just let things be silent. I am able to charge both on solitary hikes. But time alone for a while I desire to have contact with others. It is natural for me. I like people. The qualities of me as a kid growing up were that I was curious, creative, and liked people. I’ve a concern for others, a protectiveness of others, and a desire to understand others.
Long tangent there. A thought crossed my mind that other things become normative as well, as history has shown…. we can become used to common events that occur often and that odd event strikes us as particularly powerful. The person in an abusive relationship, year after year, who finds her/his self suddenly interesting to a nice person. This is not negativity bias, it is unique bias. It could be, and I am purely speculating here, that the negativity bias is more likely to occur in affluent cultures and communities within which most of our physical needs are met without much thought and effort. This is also not taking into account explanatory styles, such as optimism or pessimism (see Seligman’s book on learned optimism as well as the one on happiness). What would this unique bias, negative and positive, have to say about someone living in, say, a small town with little industry other than working at the mill, no obvious support systems or means to get away from the life that is dictated to him/her and all the social pressures around him/her seem to point to the same ends? I am getting a little off my point here. The point in this paragraph was that it could be natural for us to become habituated to whatever environment we are in with all of its various levels and acting forces, and that something novel really strikes us as more meaningful. I am curious, as well, if the articles that I have on my laptop that is on my waiting list to be read have anything to say about volition or locus of control or such. I am particularly interested in volition and autonomy. The example about the negativity bias is that finding $100 is not as big of an impact as losing $100. Given two people who are at the lower end of the poverty scale and each finds a $100 bill in the middle of a field (so that there is no moral qualms with keeping the money) I wonder if there is a difference between the two people in regard to their sense of their own volition. For one it may be a lucky break to ‘get by’ for the day. Nothing changes, this is just another band-aid on a deep wound that continues to gush blood. The other sees it as a resource, a tool, to use as a small stepping stone to a larger stepping stone, it to another, and so forth.
As a side note, I wonder about attitudes toward the poor. Does this dichotomy play itself out in our attitudes and beliefs toward the homeless and poor we see on the streets? Do we view the five dollars we give the person on the corner as a tool for them? That they are hoarding their gathered resources to create a stepping stone and to move up? What of those individuals that go to http://www.kiva.org and give microloans? Are the feelings much different? Are some of these attitudes partly determined by the setting? How much is by the individual? What other factors are there in this?
And thinking on this I am reminded of Danny, a homeless man in Portland whom I sat with on a park bench for a spell recently. It broke my heart. When asked about it in therapy I felt terrible for him. After looking into the encounter I felt even worse of a scoundrel, for I did not ask Danny if he had any place to go, if he had been attacked, if he had any friends or family, when was the last time he ate, or anything. Realizing this then, and now, I feel like a selfish lout. And perhaps this is underneath what I meant, but not realizing it, when I asked myself the question ‘what would a good man have done?’ My favorite professor would ask us in class to perform ‘self checks’ on our beliefs and attitudes. I’ve got a ways to go. It is not that the love isn’t there, it is blocked by habit and automatic actions/thoughts that form the banks of the river of my mind.
And this leads me to the point I began to write about. I wondered that there might also be positive things that, just by their touch or presence, impacts us. Just a one single rat turd might ruin a large box of muffins, so to, I feel, one beautiful thing/person might enrich a whole time period of life. No long and necessary rituals here for purity. No lengthy absolution recipes. Just the fact that it is there has an impact. My example was that of Julia Butterfly Hill. I am not of a religion that has saints, however, were I to imagine what it would be like to meet a living saint, it would be when I met her. The very air around her seemed alive with love. I feel that I was enriched just by contact with her, that something about her helped to make me a better person, to slow me down, to deepen me, to help bring me along the path of who I really am.
And then sadness overcame me. When asked I tried to explain that, perhaps, I was of such a type, I was a thing of great beauty of which contact with for a brief moment enriched and changed the lives of others for the better. Tears flowed… even now emotion wells up in me and I struggle to fight back wetness in the eyes… as the therapist asked why this was sad- she said that she felt I was such a thing. I said I felt that I had not done enough, had not given enough, had wasted so very much.
I recall what I wrote earlier about the Shadow self and Waste. It hurts to think of how much good I am not doing. I feel that there is something there, something within me, some greatness that is world changing… and yet… some sort of… fear (?) keeps me from opening up to it.
The thought that comes to mind, now, as I right this is of the Martyr. That a person would sacrifice his/herself for something out of love (not the martyr in the relationship, I don’t think this is entirely healthy). The question is, just how can someone fail at being a martyr? What’s the worse that could happen? You die! Well, that was the point all along, so buck up and get to it. And next, in my mind, is the concept of love. There is sacrifice for duty, propelled by love, and there is also sacrifice for love only. The question I am wondering is, if love is isolated from other motivators of sacrifice (duty, honor, loyalty, etc…) then how can sacrifice not be a joyful event?
And if this is so… what is its new name? For it is no longer sacrifice.
And this leads me to resiliency… somehow… and this path is not too clearly defined in my thinking… but I feel the connection there.