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My last full-time job was a 9 to 5 hand over your soul, sign on the dotted line kind of job. I did manage to escape with my soul intact and a bit of money to boot, but also with a wisedomic* insight from a colleague. The bank was in extreme financial difficulty at the time and jobs were being laid off. Employees were naturally upset and worried, however my colleague’s words always stuck with me. He said to both the redundant and the bank that ‘all positive change comes from negative input’. He even went on to say that this is not just the case with humanity but in physics and biology.
Now, I have no doubt that the physicists, biologists,
socialists sociologists amongst you will list many ways in which his statement is not true, however I do agree with the sentiment.
OK, so the small stuff is right there. We learn from our mistakes not from our success, or so goes the saying. It is the negative experience which teaches us, and there you have the positive response. Then a kid touches a hot stove and learns never to do it again, negative input, positive outcome. My colleague even used the example of magnets, whereby you need both positive and negative to attract, and therefore become stronger. Although I’m typically too busy trying to join the minus and the minus or pushing them around the table as if by magic.
Then you look at the bigger stuff.
In New York City in 2003, there was an event which only happens on average every 20 to 30 years – a blackout. Not planned obviously, I mean how could humans survive without TV for a couple of hours? Well, quite well as it turns out. Not only did they survive, but in a city where not speaking to others is the goal in your every day life something quite extraordinary happened. They came out into the streets and helped each other, spoke to each other, sang, danced and not only that, crime actually fell during that time. If you want an even more romanticised view of that blackout you can watch the advert by an old english phone company Orange who took full advantage of the situation.*
Naturally, the lights came back on and everyone went back to doing the things they didn’t like. Again though the main point here is that the ‘negative’ input – the loss of power, created these positive outcomes.
2 years later in 2005 New Orleans and the surrounding area was struck by hurricane Katrina, devastating the area and plunging thousands into overnight homelessness and poverty. In the endless stream of embarrassing US Government actions the response to Katrina was pitiful, bordering on disgusting, especially for the self-proclaimed ‘most powerful nation on Earth’. People were stranded without food and water, until a young guy stole a school bus and began transporting people out of the state on a 13 hour journey… to then be refused entry to a refugee shelter by Government officials*.
Prior to arriving though, they pulled together on the bus, pooling their resources to care for children without sanitary products, to pay for food between them and for petrol for the bus. The best of humanity is again reserved for the worst of times.
The natural default of humans is to care for each other, that is why during the horrific Manchester bombing last night taxi drivers switched off their meters, homeless people ran to help the injured and people offered up their homes to anyone who needed it. Not to mention the brave and astounding work by the emergency services. We as individuals, and a collective society are capable of amazing things, but quite often we only show it when negativity rears its ugly head.
It makes the heart melt to see these acts of heroism, bravery and altruism. But there is certainly a proximity condition at work here. It appears we must be close, physically or emotionally, to the negativity in order to have a positive response. Tragedy occurs daily around the world of which we as a society could have a huge impact – refugees, starvation and health crises everywhere but our lack of proximity to them seems to diminish our desire to be brave, altruistic, or heroic.
Beyond the sadness of the event last night, is the sadness that as a group of communities and as a society we are clearly capable of so much positivity, yet we rarely show our true colours. Our social constructs, whether it be our political system, our industries or our attitudes, mask our true innate desire to care for fellow humans. We, as a collective, apparently don’t want to reduce our standard of living to help others. We don’t want to forgo the promotion, the new phone, the upgraded car, the cinema trips, the restaurants, the new clothes, the new make up, the latest shoes, the new TV, the ability to sit and watch the TV. We, as a collective, seem only to want to increase our own comfort and wealth, regardless of the cost to others. The response last night shows that these are learned behaviours, they’re not who we really are.
We are built to care, support, educate and love others. Lets do that instead.
*Plus, from watching this advert I discovered one of my favourite artists – Joanna Newsom.
*After negotiating with the Red Cross, they were eventually admitted.