“If you think happiness is a rare bird, you won't see much of it.” --Marty Rubin
At this point it almost feels cliched to say that the news has been rough recently. There’s a blunt but truthful saying in journalism: if it bleeds, it leads. And it certainly feels like woundedness and violence—against women, against LGBTQ folk, against refugees, against people of color, against people of other faiths—is all the headlines have to report.
It’s easy to forget, in the midst of all that ugliness and violence and oppression and indifference, that there is still much good in the world. I was reminded of this recently in a TED Talk by psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker. Pinker points out that human beings typically operate according to a psychological framework called the availability heuristic: “the easier it is to recall something from memory, the more probable we judge it to be.” If the headlines keep violence and misfortune at the forefront of our consciousness, then we will judge those things to be more likely in future – and will be more likely to notice them when they happen, leading to a kind of morose confirmation bias.
Moreover, psychologists have found that we tend to remember bad things longer, and think about them more often, than good things. This despite the fact that, as M.K. Gandhi liked to point out, the very fact that we are here at all, and have not utterly obliterated one another, is a testament to the prevalence of cosmic good – or cosmic neutrality at least!
I think Pinker is naïve in his trust in the power of rationality and technology to save us, not least because I think he radically underestimates the significance of climate catastrophe. But he has a valid point: we tend to focus on the bad instead of the good, to our own detriment. We tend to live from a framework of scarcity, rather than from a framework of abundance.
Now, there is deprivation and injustice, certainly; I do not mean to gloss over the reality of suffering in our world. But I contend that affirming goodness is not tantamount to “burying our heads in the sand” and ignoring the problems of the world. Rather, it is a spiritual practice, holding both brokenness and blessedness together in the affirmation that God is good – and so is the world She created, however imperfect it (and we) may sometimes seem. Only when we first recognize that there really is goodness and abundance—despite all evidence to the contrary—can we share that goodness and abundance and begin to tip society’s scales in their favor.
QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK: Are you more likely to notice good things or bad things? Where are the places in your life or in the world where you hear “Good News”? How can we share that Good News with others?