Combatting the Power of a Negative Comment
I recently watched Morgan Spurlock’s disturbing new documentary, “Rats.” The most unsettling part of the film was not the videos of hundreds of rats scurrying around or even the view of a man drinking out a pan of milk that rats had been drinking from and crawling around in, but the worst part was Spurlock’s evidence of the almost indestructible nature of the species. He made a strong case for how rats as a species might still be flourishing when man has long vanished from the earth. The resiliency of the furry and almost universally disgusting creatures reminded me of the potency of negative comments in our lives.
Most us have had the weird experience of having one negative comment outweigh dozens of positive ones in our lives. It could be a comment about a new article of clothing you purchased, some creative piece of work you put out in the world, or some new direction where you led your organization. You have dozens of affirming statements about your work and then you receive a single negative e-mail or phone call. In an amazing quirk of human nature, most people will begin to focus on the single negative comment and almost ignore the larger number of positive statements.
The behavior makes no sense:
- Why don’t we embrace the sheer weight of numbers and focus on the positive?
- Why would we let one statement carry more weight than dozens of others?
- Why do we care so much about complaints that often come from strangers?
- How in the world did rats and negative comments become so resilient?
I’m not saying people who disagree with our art or work are rats. I am lamenting the fact that negative comments have an amazing ability to survive the counterattacks of our rational minds and our most balanced analysis.
I have a few guesses as to why and one observation for moving forward.
- We are wired to be sensitive to the negative, hence the famous news media policy, “if it bleeds it leads.”
- We are usually so in love with our ideas, “after all we birthed them,” that we naively assume everyone else will love them too, hence the “every baby is beautiful” fallacy.
- We are spoiled to people’s polite silence about our ideas and taste. Hence the shock when someone tells us our amazingly cute new shoes are ugly.
- We are not wired to consider the negative. Differing opinions are a natural part of the environment and hence they should not surprise us like a rat bounding out of an alley.
If you want to live a bold and creative life you will be noticed and draw comments. Not all of them are going to be positive. Treat them like the rats of the comment world. Don’t be shocked by them. Don’t think that they are out of the ordinary, because they are not. They just usually remain hidden. Work to put their limited appearance in perspective against the overriding positive support you receive. Most of all, keep working and creating.
Mr. Spurlock, I disagree, rats will never rule the world.