If you are like me and trying to follow the diamond rather than the golden rule, sooner or later you find yourself with an excess of negativity. This other part of ourselves is not a comfortable place to be in, though, so we find outstandingly creative ways to either get out of it or distract ourselves from it. I acknowledge those who cannot control that negativity. I am also aware of those who prefer to wallow in it and call it everything from realism to ageism to what-not.
But in this article I want to focus on the role of the negative. For those young enough 😛 to have used photo film, you know the fascination of the negatives, the way our brain struggles and then begins to make sense of the reversed image, the play of shadow and unnatural light that coalesces into a weird beauty.
In a more real world (says who?), as I mentioned in another couple of articles, the negative is a lot more useful for survival than the positive. That’s why our brain notices it first and attempts to address it first. No matter the stark beauty of the wide open space of the savannah, that prowling big feline you see coming towards you gets noticed and dealt with so you can admire the scenery another day
The upside to that is, of course, safety. If we succeed in reaching a safe place, the theory says we can allow that survival-oriented part of our brain to be at rest and we can concentrate on being human, including paying attention to and creating beauty. Most of us seem to have forgotten we have that switch though… does that mean we do not recognize a safe place when we see it anymore?
But there is another role of the negative, especially when we are talking about feelings. They are, of course, great motivators. Probably because of that link with survival, we usually act on the negative faster, and put a lot of effort into it. The results are… hmm, what’s a polite way of putting it?
I will refer you to the entire range of fiction, and most of the non-fiction writing… just in case you haven’t noticed it, it ain’t pretty! For a milder version, the religious and inspirational teachings focus on teaching the brain to avoid acting in those ways, which is an acknowledgment of the way they usually pan out.
But if there is one thing our brain can do, is learn. We can learn to guide our actions, even when those actions are triggered by negative thoughts or feelings (greed, hate, jealousy and the like). I have tried to learn this with the shades of anger that are my usual negative response to life. I am in a vocation that allows me to use anger to try and change systems. I can also use it to arrange the life around me to be safe. I am not sure if anger can work at a group level (revolutions, anyone?) but at a personal level heck, yes it works!
Don’t get me wrong, I can wallow in anger myself for a while, uncomfortable as it actually is. I can fantasize about revenge driven by anger – and I am inventive!
In the long run though, that doesn’t matter because anger is a motivator for action, but (wait for it!) it is not the action. That has been, and is, and will be, under our control – and that’s the way I like it!