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Good News: There Is More Bad News

January 2, 2020 | by Emuna Braverman

There is always bad in the world – but there is good also. What do you want to focus on?

I’m as prone to negativity as anyone else – easily focused on bad news and caught up in the downward spiral. But I have to quibble with the research (empirical though it may be!) that suggests we need four positive experiences to counteract every negative one. That gives such disproportionate power to the purveyors of doom and gloom. It’s not my experience of life and I don’t think it’s the way the Almighty structured His world.

I was recently stocking up at a large grocery chain. I somehow slid a case of water bottles into my shopping cart, all the while wondering how I was going to get it into my trunk without damaging my (yes, it’s still broken!) collarbone. I could have asked someone who worked at the store to help me but that usually takes a long time and, despite my vows to slow things down, well you know…I got to my car and loaded everything else into the trunk. Then I looked around hopefully. After a brief wait a young man (probably late teens) drove into the parking lot and go out of the car with his mother or grandmother; I wasn’t sure. I approached and pleaded my case.

He could not have been more gracious. “Sure, no problem” he said and proceeded to heft the water into my car. Then he walked off with his older female relative, holding her hand! I wore a smile the whole rest of the day. As my father, a”h, used to say, “It warmed the cockles of my heart.” It gave me hope and optimism, and, trite as it may be, restored some of my faith in humanity.

But, despite the bad news in general and the even worse news for our community, I think it’s a mistake that my faith was even in need of restoration. I don’t think it’s because the bad outweighs the good in our lives and I don’t think we need some particular ratio of positive experiences to negative ones. I think it’s all of question of what we focus on. We focus almost always on the negative – and we have to train ourselves to focus on the positive. In a tongue-in-cheek article in the satirical Babylon Bee, there was an article about the recent church shooting:

The nation's media outlets announced they were grieving today as an armed citizen stopped a mass shooting.

"We grieve that this tragedy we could have exploited for weeks on end was stopped by a good guy with a gun," said one teary-eyed MSNBC reporter on the scene. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the shooter."

"We are absolutely heartbroken and in shock over here," said one New York Times journalist. "What could have given us weeks and weeks of frothing-at-the-mouth stories about gun control will now have to be suppressed since it does not align with our agenda."

Whatever your position on the issue, we can all agree that the media does in fact exploit mass shootings and other bad news. Perhaps we can be forgiven for thinking that there is no other kind.

But perhaps not. Because this is where our individual responsibility comes to play. We have a duty to look for the positive and to keep our concentration there. The Almighty gave us so many gifts and we need to stop and appreciate them instead of always complaining. I know that as a parent it’s really annoying when our children either don’t express gratitude or express it very briefly before they move on to a litany of complaints and frustrations. That’s how the Almighty must feel about us.

He gave us such a beautiful world with so many special opportunities and all we want to read about, watch, talk about is what doesn’t work, what went wrong, how many challenges we have as individuals or as a country. And it’s very easy to get caught up in it.

I’m not saying that we need to be Pollyannas and hide our heads in the sand. Life has some very real challenges and some overwhelming pain. But it serves none of us well if that’s where we invest our energies. In fact, the opposite is true. Negativity robs us of energy. Positivity enervates us.

We need to reverse the tide. It’s up to all of us to make the choice – to turn away from the negative and focus on the positive. Even if our first instinct is to see the unpleasantness, we can still choose how we react. We don’t have to go with our first instinct. We can make a rational choice to see the good. And it seems to me that is the only rational choice to make – if we truly want to live a life of meaning and pleasure and connection to God.

There will always to be bad in the world – but there will always be good also. What do you want to focus on?

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