Reuters blogger Zachary Karabell has never had so much hate mail in his life. His offense? Highlighting some good news here and there which may indicate the US and World economy is turning the corner.
His “pen-pals” don’t just disagree with him. They hate him. He says he wouldn’t mind people saying he’s wrong, or even ridiculing him, but it’s the rage he was unprepared for. He tries to explain this inexplicable hostility:
1. The online world of comments and commentary does skew negative.
2. People who agree and support his view are less likely to express that compared with those who oppose it; agreement is more passive whereas anger is more active.
3. It contradicts what many people believe and experience. “Positive views on the present are seen as a slap in the face by people who have negative experiences, which, according to some polls, is the majority of Americans.” As an aside Karrabel notes:
4. Americans of the past few years are less positive about the future than they have been at any point since the 1970s.
5. The losers in any changing economy are going to be more vocal that those who have made gains.
If it bleeds, it leads
I’d add a couple more reasons. First is that bad news sells better than good news. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the mantra of so much of our media. As Dr. Bradley Wright explains in Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of our World:
The media sells negative worldviews. It’s not that reporters, writers, and editors are pessimistic people; rather, they have a strong incentive to tell us about the fearful, scary, and dangerous happenings in our world. The media is a business, and it succeeds by attracting viewers and readers. With hundreds of television channels and even more online news sources, how can they do this? One way is to offer something that is truly frightening. If watching a story can save us from some imminent danger, then maybe we’ll stop channel surfing long enough to watch it. If reading a report can protect us from a health scare, maybe we’ll pick the magazine off the rack. Sensationalism and fear sells—this is a fact of life that won’t change anytime soon. (Upside, 36)
We then get so used to the daily diet of disaster, decline, destruction, and death, that when someone tries to feed us something good and healthy, we often choke on it.
Second, there’s our fallen human nature which is warped towards the darkness (John 3:19). Gretchen Rubin calls this our “negativity bias”:
Our reactions to bad events are faster, stronger, and stickier than our reactions to good events. In fact, in practically every language, there are more concepts to describe negative emotions than positive emotions… It takes at least five positive marital actions to offset one critical or destructive action (The Happiness Project, 48).
Swallowed and Succumbed
With a few happy exceptions, Christians in general have also swallowed our culture’s negative narrative and have succumbed to our innate negativity bias. We seem to be addicted to bad and sad news, and have become so used to feeding on it that we don’t even realize it. In fact, in some circles, happiness has almost become synonymous with heresy. “He’s happy? To the stake!”
How then to recover a more balanced view? First, as Karrabel suggests, without closing our eyes to faults and failings, we must stop focusing relentlessly on what isn’t working:
Every society must find some balance between addressing real shortcomings and building on real strengths. The United States in particular oscillates between excessive self-congratulation (“the indispensable nation,” “the freest nation on Earth”) and extreme self-criticism.
Christians have to work harder at feeding upon (and feeding to each other) the good news that God is filling the world with.
Second, we have to read our Bibles and change the narrative from one of pessimism to one of optimism. No, we don’t believe in the inevitability of evolutionary progress. But we do believe in a sovereign and good God though, who makes His sun to shine and His rain to fall on the good and the evil, and whose tender mercies are over all His works. We do believe in God’s common grace witnessing to Him and making hearts glad (Acts 14:17). Above all, we believe in the power of the Gospel, way more than in the power of the American Presidency, to change our lives and to change our world.
If we’re going to be hated, let’s be hated for being Christian optimists.