Today’s Oppressive Negativity
Watching the news, reading the newspaper, or tracking social-media trends, it becomes evident that there is an air of negativity in today’s world. Specific examples of this supposition include the economic crises in nearly all markets, riots and wars in the Middle East, political smear campaigns, religious contentions inside of and between many faiths. This negativity feels burdensome and oppresses progress and growth. Is there a cure for this malaise and depressing state of affairs?
Lewis, Amini, and Lannon (2000) posit that emotions are contagious due to limbic resonance. The basis of this theory is that individuals and groups (as well as societies and cultures) transmit emotions through subtle cues and expressions. This in turn impacts our behavior as individuals and as a collective. In a case study, McKee and Johnston (2006) describe how top leadership of a global sporting goods organization faced poor performance, organizational restructuring, and market downturns. The leadership team’s attitude was full of negativity and a general lack of confidence. A loss of hope and organizational depression emerged as the negativity fed on itself and spread to other leaders.
Once the organization’s leaders addressed the negativity and began to focus on positive energy, they began to turn the situation around by deepening their commitment to pull through the tough times. Bushe and Coetzer (1995) attribute this result with the theory that “the more positive [the energy] used to guide the group process or organization change effort, the more long-lasting and effective the change effort (in Watkins & Mohr, 2001, p. 39). It is important to note that those who approach challenges with a positive attitude have a faster recovery rate after handling the stressful situation (Watkins & Mohr, 2001).
Action for Healing
While hope and a positive attitude alone likely will not bring monumental changes or a cure for global problems immediately, they are the cornerstone of making this shift. Our attitudes of framing the situation (how we perceive the situation, collect and analyze data, and make judgments about our next steps) “start a snowball of inquiries, dialogues, and …images of the future” (Watkins & Mohr, 2001, p. 33). Since human beings are social creatures, and our emotions–as noted above–are contagious, one could suppose that injecting positive attitudes into a chaotic world of negativity would unleash creativity to approaching, and ultimately solving, the toughest global problems.
Instead of viewing, for example, the credit crisis as a slippery slope into international financial collapse, a positive reframing of the issue could unveil plausible solutions. Rather than view this as a credit crisis without end in sight, I propose a new question: How have societies/governments/cultures resolved financial challenges in a way that benefited the greater good? What did they do that was so successful and from which we can learn and apply to today? What ideas have people proposed that could solve the issue, which we should consider?
The key to making lasting change, therefore, is to begin by shifting our understanding/perception of the situation into a positive (albeit realistic) one. Then, by analyzing the situation from this new perspective, we can unleash creative solutions and take action towards a positive future. Standing our ground to maintain the positive perspective will begin to make small shifts in others, which in turn will cause an increasingly larger positive, contagious effect throughout global society over the long run.
Bushe, G. & Coetzer, G. (1995). Appreciative inquiry as a team development intervention: A controlled experiment. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 31:1, 19-31. Washington, DC: NTL Institute of Applied Behavioral Science.
Lewis, T., Amini, F. & Lannon, R. (2000). A general theory of love. New York: Random House.
McKee, A. & Johnston, F. (2006). The impact and opportunity of emotion in organizations. In B. Jones & M. Brazzel (Eds.) The NTL Handbook of Organization Development and Change: Principles, Practices, and Perspectives. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Watkins, J. & Mohr, B. (2001). Appreciative inquiry: Change at the speed of imagination. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.