Speaking of Negative Motivation

Tiny FactsSpeaking of Black Ice, Negative Motivation and Sacrificing Babies to Get Rain

By Barry Maher

We all know that human beings can be truly horrendous to each other. Anyone who doesn’t know that hasn’t really been paying attention lately. Discord, hatred and fear seem to be the order of the day.  And that’s just the recent political ads.

I’ve never been accused of being a Pollyanna. Still, I like to measure the large scale horrors against a couple of tiny facts.

Imagine you’re driving. You’re wearing your seat belt. The person you like least in the entire world is sitting next to you, not wearing a belt. Suddenly, a beer truck runs a red light, and you have to slam on the brakes.

You will simultaneously throw out an arm to protect that person you dislike so much.

Now imagine you’re walking down the sidewalk. An older woman is directly in front of you. Suddenly she hits an unseen patch of black ice. Her legs go out from under her and she’s about to crack her head. You’re very likely to leap forward and fling yourself between that vulnerable skull and the sidewalk—without considering how you may bruise yourself or how it may ruin your expensive new outfit.

“Well, if I had time to think about it, I’d never do it,” someone once said to me cynically. “At least not for that guy I hate.”

That’s just the point. You don’t have to think. These responses aren’t thought out. They’re programmed in. We have evolved as social creatures, as a community—no matter how imperfect it might be. There is something in us that wants and needs to protect each other. I find that extremely encouraging—in spite of some of the other tendencies we have.

 

Progress

We are making progress. Again, you have to put it in perspective. Twenty-four hour, wall-to-wall news coverage makes it all too plain that we still commit horrors against each other. And of course the technology we have today gives us the potential for bigger and better horrors than ever before. But at least today we are horrified by those horrors. In Attila the Hun’s day, that kind of behavior was simply accepted.

We no longer eat each other. And while some of today’s self-help experts may offer the occasional outlandish recommendation, there was a time when our gurus advised sacrificing babies to get rain.

Progress happens. You have to place our present sensibilities—as uncivilized as they may sometimes seem—in a larger scale of time. Not that many years ago, you could buy yourself someone condemned to death and have him drawn and quartered to entertain your friends. In another popular form of family entertainment, two blind men would be pushed into tiny pens, given clubs and forced to beat each other to unconsciousness or death. Maybe reality TV and professional wrestling aren’t so bad after all.

William Burroughs might have been right when he said, “Paranoia is simply having all the facts.” I prefer to think paranoia is about missing a few tiny facts that point to a bigger picture.  And watching far too much Nancy Grace.

© Copyright 2006, 2013 Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada

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