Reasons why we might do this:
- it's a natural psychological and physiological protective response
- these stories are often more interesting and funny than positive experiences (I literally searched for "people falling downstairs" and "people not falling downstairs" on youtube and got zero results for the second option)
- we are trained and conditioned by media and news to focus on negative stories, possibly this causes us to think that these things are more valuable, interesting and worth talking about
- somehow a negative experience fills more space in my memory than a positive one? why? is there anything I can do to change this?
For whatever reason, giving the positive a bigger space in our lives, minds and hearts requires some effort. We have to exercise our positive-noticing-neurons to make them stronger and fight against the negative-noticing-neurons which seem to dominate. Do we have more of them? Are they inherently stronger? I have no idea, but from my relatively limited understanding (i.e. I've read a few books, gone to a few courses and read some articles online) of neuroplasticity, change is possible.
So, in the spirit of possible change, I present a positive shopping story. Possibly not quite as funny as my negative experiences. But as I left the store, I realized that things have changed - steadily, quietly, continuously.
Standing in line waiting to check out at the grocery store, I observed the relatively young man who was the cashier. He was awkward. You know who they are. You've seen them. You've possibly been one. You know you don't quite have "it", but you haven't quite figured out what "it" is. You know you have something wonderful to offer the world, but you don't quite know the best way to deliver your particular brand of "awesome". So you sit, kind of quiet, kind of shy, feeling like you are likely to attempt something and have it fall flat, or maybe even be embarrassed. And depending on the day, you may have energy to deal with that embarrassment or disappointment, or you may not. The prime age for awkwardness is between 10-23, but many of us suffer from awkwardness well into adulthood.
|An example of an awkward person|
Anyway, we made small conversation. Me and the awkward Slovak boy-man. I slowly processed the words he spoke telling me what I owed, slowly counted my change and awkwardly thanked him for his patience, bravely trying to say something other than "thank you". At this point, the experience shifted. He awkwardly kept my change and pretended that the transaction was over and I should leave. I'm so used to being confused, having to be cautious, misunderstanding simple questions, that I actually felt confused. I was being joked with. That's totally up a level in language skills!
As I left, I was chuckling inwardly. Me and the awkward Slovak boy-man were on a level playing field. My awkward language skills most likely gave him some confidence to joke with the pretty woman at the check-out (yes, I am identifying as the pretty woman in this story) and his awkwardness probably gave me the confidence to try expanding my conversation skills with the cashier. We all win in this situation! We may still be awkward, but we are moving forward on the confidence and inclusion continuum.
The difference between leaving the store feeling misunderstood, confused and frustrated to leaving the store feeling included, hopeful and actually still confused was slight. But profoundly significant.
Change is possible. It rarely happens quickly. We must practice noticing it. But positive changes are undoubtably happening all around us.