Friday, October 7, 2011

Overload of the Negative?

I began reading another book yesterday, which I find fascinating and thought provoking. At this point I haven't progressed much further than the author's foreword because it is packed with information and presents a perspective that has my mind leaping down numerous trails again - especially as I consider how the information I'm encountering applies to our society and culture today.

The book is entitled: A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century, written by Barbara W. Tuchman.  Publisher: Random House, 1978

In her foreword Tuchman takes time to relate four ‘hazards’ of researching & writing history that she wrestled with. Describing the third one she begins:

“A greater hazard, built into the very nature of recorded history, is overload of the negative: the disproportionate survival of the bad side – of evil, misery, contention, and harm. In history this is exactly the same as in the daily newspaper. The normal does not make news. History is made by documents that survive, and these lean heavily on crisis and calamity, crime and misbehaviour, because such things are the subject of the documentary process – of lawsuits, treaties, moralists’ denunciations, literary satire, papal Bulls. No Pope ever issued a Bull to approve of something. Negative overload can be seen at work in the religious reformer Nicolas de Clamages, who, in denouncing unfit and worldly prelates in 1401, said that in his anxiety for reform he would not discuss the good clerics because “they do not count beside the perverse men.”

She goes on to say,

“ Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home – on a lucky day – without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman’s Law as follows: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold” (or any figure the reader would care to supply).”

This is not the first time I've read statements regarding the preponderance of "bad news" that we see, hear, and read about daily. How often do we decry the absence or scarcity of 'good news'? It is, however, the first time I've been convincingly prodded to consider the resulting future historical representation of our times. 

As I considered this overload of the negative, I realized that I only have to look at how the current negative financial news and speculation is shaking the economic foundations of today`s international and national marketplace. What will the history say about that in 100 years?

Another thought; is it only on a lucky day that I come home without having experienced something negative? I hope not.

Given this overload of the negative, should I work harder at seeking and recognizing the positive? How do other people perceive me? How will people remember me? Do I communicate a pessimistic attitude and personality, dragging other people down or do I encourage people by being more positive in my attitude, and what I say and do? As I listen to other people and the media, do I allow myself to get sucked into the negative or do I strive to find a healthy balance in my attitude and outlook?

I need to pay closer attention to that.

I`m eagerly anticipating more thought provoking information as I continue to read.

Will I have difficulty sleeping tonight as my brain churns on? I certainly did last night.

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