“Once you embrace unpleasant news, not as a negative but as evidence of a need for change, you aren’t defeated by it. You’re learning from it.” Bill Gates

In the News

It took a few days on a recent beach getaway, observing the tranquility of the sunrise, the laid-back ambience of children and adults playing in the surf, and consciously disconnecting from the rapid, day-to-day pulse of business activity to offset the discontent, tragedy, and general tone of pessimism contained in one night’s broadcast of the evening news. It struck me that, in thirty minutes of time to check out the local news prior to departing for the coast, the amount of the broadcast committed to what’s wrong with the world was exceptionally high, compared to what’s right. Although generally aware of the imbalance of bad to good stories in the written news and news broadcasts, what psychologists refer to as the “negativity bias” caught my attention.

I thought about the number of people reading the newspaper or watching a similar news broadcast on a daily basis, convinced that I had not randomly come across a newscast devoted to “what’s wrong today,” and recalled a study by Canadian researchers Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka that brought to light how people relate to the news. Their studies support the theory that humans are wired to react rapidly to threats to their survival; accordingly, a higher alertness for negative words rather than positive words is a natural occurrence.

Change the Filter

Given that the conveyance of news from around the world is unlikely to soon shift to more good news than bad, there is a choice to be made about how we respond to bad news. As Bill Gates suggests, we can focus on the negative aspects and be defeated or we can make a conscious effort to look at bad news through a different lens, as an opportunity to learn. What can be learned from unpleasant stories we encounter? A place to look is at your response to the question, “What needs to change, and what can I do in my own small way—what can I control—to instigate change?”

From the current news story of a youth soccer team trapped in a cave with their coach in Thailand that continues to unfold, I am learning about my own capacity for courage, compassion, ingenuity, and fortitude through the efforts of rescuers from multiple nations, working together to deliver a successful outcome from a formidable challenge. I am learning that “can’t” is a word to use with caution, as young boys who “can’t swim” actually can and did swim to safety, in the most harrowing conditions imaginable, with the assistance of others. I am learning that challenges or setbacks are what we choose to make of them. We can make any mountain too tall to climb, or we can just climb.

Bad news may be unpleasant, it may own the headlines and the coverage, and it may keep coming. It may also be the source of inspiration to look at events that impact us from a different perspective: the real threat to survival is a matter of how much we are willing to learn.

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