Why is it that the things we remember the most are the hard things-the things that hurt? Why do our brains go to that first, rather than characterize a moment in time with something more positive? You know what I mean.
If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all. For every negative comment, say five positive. Hurt people, hurt people. Be kind whenever possible, it’s always possible. Be kind, you don’t know who is facing a battle… there are whole sites devoted to quotes on being kind. I could look up tons of real smarty-pants medical articles about why we remember the negative more than the positive, and write a blog on that, but you could Google that and read those for yourself. Here, I made it easy for you. (I love that trick.)
I Googled, “If you can’t say something nice don’t say it at all.” Do you know how many results it found in .58 seconds? About 2.75 billion. Now, granted, Thumper from Bambi was in half of those. I’d totally forgotten he was in the mix. (IMHO he was the best thing about Bambi. Also, that is the second time Bambi has come up today. Also, don’t get me started on Dumbo.)
So where am I going with this? I have no idea, that’s why I’m writing this blog. I mean, if the negative floats to the top of our memories, and Thumper was telling us to be nice, where have we lost the plot? Did you know Harvard Business Review even conducted a study on, “The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio.” In case you’re curious, they recommend 5.6 positive comments for every 1 negative comment.*
A few weeks ago I was talking to my 7-year-old daughter, Georgia, about how she needed to communicate better with a friend to help her understand. Georgia’s response was, “Well, she wasn’t a good friend to me when I hit my head.” First of all, that bump to the head was November of 2017 and it was December of 2018 when we were talking. That is a long time to bear that seemingly insignificant hurt. Secondly, her friend actually stuck with her the whole time until she had to go to class while Georgia waited to be picked up. While the knock to the head was pretty significant, it wasn’t enough to give her amnesia. Georgia was just remembering the hurt afterward of the friend not sitting with her at recess because she wanted to run and Georgia couldn’t risk another knock to the noggin.
When Andrew died, there were lots of lovely things friends did that I remember. Of all of the things that happened in the immediate window of time, I still remember one hurt in particular. I’m 99% sure that the person who said it won’t even remember they said it. I, however, remember who, where, what, why, and when they said it.
Who: I’ll keep that to myself.
Where: German class with Herr Lutz
What: Comment from “friend”
Why: I was crying in class
When: Starting strong in first period. It wasn’t too long after I came back to school after Andrew died.
I honestly didn’t want to be at school. The world still felt topsy turvy and I was actually a bit afraid to be apart from my parents. I felt like everyone knew who I was and if they didn’t, someone would tell them. I was low-man on the totem pole since I was in seventh grade. I wasn’t sure what to do or say. I felt like everyone knew what happened but they still wanted the details. No one knew how to relate so it turned into curiosity. First period was German and there I was sitting in class. I wiped a tear from my eye when someone said, “What…you’re still crying about that? It’s been a week already.”
I don’t tell that story to get sympathy (seriously though…who says that to a 12-year old who’s only sibling just died…okay, I’m over it…not really). I tell that to obviously illustrate a point: I remember every detail of that negative encounter. Do I remember every detail of a positive encounter in that same period of time at school? Nope. Not a one. Does that mean that no one at school was encouraging or lent me their shoulder? Nope. I’m sure someone did. I don’t remember it though.
My husband and I were talking tonight and he made a comment about “365-days a year [this] happens.” I (un)helpfully pointed out that it hasn’t happened every day and that was an exaggeration. He needed to remember the positive. The thing is, to him it does feel that way. While we are both experiencing the
trauma joy of raising kids, we also have different perspectives and memories.
I was hoping to end this blog with some genius idea of how to remember the positive with the negative or more than the negative. I googled “how to remember the positive more than the negative” and you know what I found? A lot of stuff. I clicked on the first link which was a New York Times article** titled very similar to my search query. Did you know that “Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones? Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.” If that’s the case, maybe we need to think more about the positive experiences when they happen so that we think about them more and process them more thoroughly. Maybe, just maybe, if we think about the positive twice for every time we think of the negative, we’ll remember them both and be more balanced. Maybe we need to carry around a notebook with us to write three positives for every negative. Or maybe, we just need to learn to brush off the negative and dwell on the positive.
*I would like to note that I did quote the Harvard Business Review, or HBR as we pros call it, in my blog. I’m legit now.
**Watch me now! I’ve quoted the New York Times. There is no living with me now.