I was chatting with a relative over the phone the other day when he asked me about my running and how it was going.
Better than ever, I said. Feeling strong and fast and fit. Things are falling into place for the Hapalua Half Marathon and I’m optimistic I’ll have a good race. Feeling really good lately. No complaints.
The response was less than enthusiastic.
Clearly, this was not what he expected — or wanted to hear. I think he was hoping I would say something like, “I’ve been injured and can’t run. My knees are killing me and so is my back. I guess all those years of running caught up with me.”
I got the impression he was ready to laugh and say, “I told you so.”
But I gave quick, short, positive response that for reasons only he knows, seemed to deflate him. He didn’t ask any more questions about my running, which was too bad because I was ready with 101 stories.
People, I’m convinced, much prefer bad news over good. They like to hear of someone’s struggles and troubles more than their successes and achievements. Think about it. Our ears perk up, our attention rises, when we get some gossip about a relative, about how they lost some money on a deal or their marriage is on the rocks. Tell us more. But if we hear they got a promotion at work, went on a vacation to Italy with their family, or bought a big, new house, our interest fades. We don’t really need to hear any more. It annoys most of us when others do well, particularly if we’re not.
People are often ask me, why do newspapers only run bad news? How come you never write anything positive?
We do. It’s just that people tend to skip over the good news and go for the bad. That’s what they remember. Check the comments on stories. A great feature on someone who did well in school, won a sports award, overcame adversity, will rarely have a comment. Nada. But a story about a guy sentenced in court for a crime? A story about someone busted for drugs? The comment threads run deep.
As I’ve said before, when there are mistakes in the paper, people I haven’t spoken to in weeks, months, years, suddenly email me to point them out. When I come to work and there are multiple messages blinking on the phone, it means there’s a glaring error in the paper. A friend once brought up an error we made five years before. Five years. Good Lord. You think he would have forgotten it. People focus on faults more than virtues. You think someone will point out something you did well five years ago? Not a prayer.
Think I’m crazy for believing bad news soars while good news sinks?
Here are a few quotes on the subject:
w “Bad news travels at the speed of light; good news travels like molasses.” — Tracy Morgan
w “The brains of humans contain a mechanism that is designed to give priority to bad news.” — Daniel Kahneman
w “He who laughs has not yet heard the bad news.” — Bertolt Brecht
w “Good news is only really good to those directly involved. Most people lead such futile and useless lives that only bad news makes them feel better. If not better, certainly gooder. If one cannot gain recognition for anything else, he can rest well with the assurance that he is “good”, which in most case equates with “right”. — Anton Szandor LaVey
And one of my favorites:
w “The good news is there’s no devil. The bad news is there’s no heaven. There’s nothing.” — Kerry Packer
Nothing. That is bad news.
Of course, it’s ultimately up to us to be positive or negative, to lift others up or push them down, to show interest in their stories, or dismiss them and insist on telling our own. One motivational speaker said you’ll have all the company in the world if you want to stay at the bottom of the barrel because most aren’t willing to do what it takes to climb out. He said if you do what is easy, your life will be hard. But if you do what is hard, your life will be easy.
That easy life, however, doesn’t begins by building yourself up. It starts with building others up. Encourage. Praise. Listen.
And most important, show interest in their stories about running.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457