October 2nd, 2009


The nature of feedback.

The human mind is an interesting thing. jimhines (who doesn't use tags, and hence isn't getting a link-back here—sorry, Jim!) posted a while back about how it takes ten positives to equal one negative, and he's basically right. I mean, seriously, think back. How many times have you seen a friend (or been the friend) who gets told "wow, that's a fantastic dress" twenty times, then gets told "that dress makes you look like a bloated rhino" once, and puts the dress away forever? Or better still, burns it?

We seem programmed to make negative connections much more quickly than we make positive ones. Example: when I was a kid, I loved-loved-loved strawberry ice cream. I loved it so much that I ate way more than I should have at my sixth birthday, and made myself sick. It was about ten years before I could eat strawberry ice cream again. Another example: I had a big fight with a close friend over a book that she liked and I didn't. I now feel sick whenever I think about re-reading the book to see if I might like it better the second time, because it is forever linked in my mind to the feeling of being yelled at by someone I trusted.

We make positive connections, too—the treasured doll, the lucky T-shirt, the special song that was playing when you kissed your high school sweetheart for the first time (sadly, in my case, the song was by Gwar)—but they tend to be slower to form, which I think is a tragic flaw in the human emotional programming. (I can also see how this is a survival trait, since the ten non-venomous snakes you catch do not keep the eleventh snake from killing you. This does not change the part where I'd really rather be happy for ten snakes than petrified because of that potential future snake with the bitey, bitey fangs.)

I find it sort of depressing that one unkind word can shatter a good mood, especially because we seem so easy with the idea of slinging nastiness at one another—an ease that just grows with anonymity and the Internet (see also Gabe's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory). The resonance of negativity is tempting, because it's intoxicatingly powerful. If I'm having a bad day, everybody can be having a bad day, right? Yay! Bad days for everybody!

It's tiresome. I'd rather just have cupcakes and street pennies for everybody. The human brain is a mysterious and messed-up thing, and there are days when I really just want to take it apart with a chainsaw.

ETA: Jim found the post for me! Yay for Jim!