I checked a major news website just now. The “top news stories” included four war-related horrors, a train derailment, two in-flight catastrophes, a tally of weather-related fatalities, two political headlines, and one sports hero flung from his pedestal on his way to rehab.
No wonder we obsess over crazy cat videos. They cleanse the palate of the mind.
Is it really so bad out there? Isn’t there an awful lot of good, too? Why do we obsess with death and destruction and the shadowy corners of human nature? Maybe it’s because the known danger seems less frightening than an unknown threat, so we arm ourselves with as much bad news as possible, superstitiously believing it protects us. Maybe it does, to some extent. We read about a family losing a child due to accidental drowning, and we take extra precautions with little ones at the pool. But I think we have taken a flying leap over the line between what is helpful watchfulness and hyper-vigilant fear-mongering. Like moths to a flame, is this fascination causing us harm?
My short answer is yes, of course it is! When all we see is threat, we fail to see opportunity. When we are steeling ourselves for onslaught, we aren’t open to kindness. When all we see is danger, our bodies and minds are too preoccupied with fighting or fleeing to do something creative or productive that actually makes the world a better place. Our obsession with what is or could go wrong actually poisons our bodies and minds. It’s dysfunctional to say the least.
This fear focus is relevant to how we operate in the work environment, too. We talked recently about how mindlessly we apply our mental shortcuts. If our fundamental view of the world is that danger lurks around every corner and that people are out to get us, it’s going to affect how we approach conflict and negotiation, and even how we view the competitive landscape. It will affect how effectively we collaborate, innovate, and lead. If we are always suspicious of other people’s motivations, we remain closed off from their ideas and perspectives. When we are too quick to see others as The Other, we get stuck in a win-lose mentality.
Sure, bad things happen. Sometimes people are terrible. But even these situations and people have something to offer if we approach them with the right perspective. Let’s go back to mindfulness. No, let’s go back to mindlessness – mindlessness requires that we operate from dichotomies: me, you; us, them; good, bad. When we are mindless we quickly pre-judge, slotting a thought or experience into a box and throwing away the key. When we are mindful, we see situations and people more holistically. We aren’t trying to pretend that a “bad” situation is actually “good,” we just see the facts as they are, unencumbered by our prejudices and preferences. Taking this wider lens allows us to see the bigger picture and choose action that isn’t rooted in fear but clarity. Fear narrows our vision and therefore our choices. When we choose to see what IS versus what we fear, our response to what IS, is more effective, plain and simple.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Victor Frankl
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