Overcoming Negativity Bias By Choosing Gratitude

Overcoming Negativity Bias By Choosing Gratitude

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Why do we tend to imagine the worst possible outcomes at first?

Why is it so much easier to anticipate what can go wrong rather than what can go right?

Why is the news filled with a litany of horrors and seldom good news?

Why do so many of us lean towards warning others of impending doom rather than highlighting how things can improve?

The answer is simple.

It’s in our DNA. It’s why those of us who have survived man’s perilous journey on this planet—so far—are here today.

For our ancestors, walking by a fruit tree without taking much notice was OK, but if they somehow missed the predator hiding behind that tree, the results would be catastrophic.

So, it’s easy to understand why and how we developed what cognitive science calls The Negativity Bias—the tendency to pay more attention to negative than positive information. In addition, we register negative stimuli more readily and tend to dwell more heavily on them.

Those of you who are in my community know that the last many months, since October 7th, have been a horrific time for Jews (0.2% of the world’s population) and the only Jewish state on the planet (a sliver of land the size of New Jersey).

It seems like everywhere I turn, Jew hatred is on appalling display.

As such, it’s so very easy to lose myself in what seems like a never-ending escalation of bad news.  

But Coaching is nothing if not an ongoing practice of mastering our unconscious biases—and I don’t mean just my clients’ but also my own.

So, to get past my own negativity bias, which at present shows up in the form of believing that the whole world is against me, I decided to make a list of all my non-Jewish friends who have shown up for me in one way or another during this incredibly difficult time.  

At first, I struggled to think of one or two.

So, I began to review my texts and emails from the last seven months to jog my memory.

The truth is, I couldn’t believe how many people—people I least expected—reached out to ask how I was doing and to express their support. One name after another filled my page of gratitude. With each additional name, a layer of hope and positivity covered my aching heart.

I considered thanking everyone by name in this article but realized it was unnecessary. You know who you are and will always be loved, appreciated, and supported by me.

 

This week, we observed Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The similarities between the blatant hatred towards Jews observed in 1939 Germany and the current situation on university campuses in the United States, as well as the events of October 7th in Israel and November 9th, 1938 in Germany, are unmistakable.

Then, too, it seemed as though the entire world had abandoned their moral compass and the Jews.

But a closer look reveals that tens of thousands of regular people stood on the right side of history.

Moreover, during the darkest chapter of recent history, some countries bravely chose to be upstanders (not bystanders).

My friend and teacher, Martin Brody, who is one of the greatest historians of our time, explains here:

We’re all aware, or at least should be, of the heroic actions of thousands of non-Jewish individuals. Indeed, the Avenue of Righteous Gentiles in Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, has some 27,000 names, engraved on plaques and several have trees planted for them. Surprising to some perhaps, Oskar Shindler was just one amongst several Germans, including Nazi officers that did extraordinary acts to save Jews. Google Major Karl Plagge, for example. May their memories be for a blessing.

But what about countries?

Who were the “Few Good Guys”?

The most renowned is Denmark. Situated like a “crown” on top of Germany, a small country, it was easily overrun, and initially it had some sort of “independence”.

When a patriot discovered the German plan to arrest the Jews, the Danes acted magnificently. In a short time period, 7200 of its 7800 Jews were shipped out surreptitiously to neigbouring neutral Sweden.

Interestingly, the fishermen and other boat people are not in the avenue of Righteous gentiles. Why? Because they charged exorbitant fees, profiteering.

And the myth of the King of Denmark riding through Copenhagen on his horse wearing a yellow star, is just that, a myth. In fact, Danish Jews were never required to wear a yellow star, unlike all other Jews in occupied territory.

Almost unknown, is the story of Bulgaria.

In an extraordinary protest, it saved the lives of 50,000 Jews.

It is a story that is barely known. I have no idea why not.

Bulgaria was nominally an Axis country, allied with Germany. But unlike the other Axis countries such as Hungary and Romania, which persecuted and murdered Jews themselves or deported them to the extermination camps at the request of the Germans, the Bulgarian government was having none of it.

They protested.

In early 1943 the Bulgarian authorities were informed by the Nazis that the deportation of their 50,000 Jews was to commence in March.

Bulgarians both within and without of power were horrified.

As the date for the deportation and the ugliness of the transports got closer, the agitation got greater. Forty-three ruling party members of Parliament walked out in protest. Newspapers denounced what was about to happen. In addition, the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Kirili, threatened to lie down on the railroad tracks!

King Boris, at great personal risk, openly forbade the expulsion.

Finally, the Germans stretched as they were defending a losing war finally gave up the attempt.

It’s a remarkable story of courage, to do what was right.

да живее (Long Live Bulgaria).

And what about the tiny island of Corsica?

A French possession in the Mediterranean, governed by the Vichy collaborationists in southern part of France.

The Vichy authorities ordered the Corsican Governor to arrest its Jews.

In a couple of days after the order, the Governor, informed the Vichy Government that he had searched the island and had found no Jews. He lied. There was a small community, and in the ensuing years of the war, Corsica was home to thousands more Jewish refugees from the French mainland and Italy.

Vive la Corse!

And finally, Muslim Albania, occupied at first by Italy and then Germany, did much to protect its Jews and refugees.

Shqiperia eshte e gjate. (Long live Albania).

 

I want to clarify that my invitation is not about disregarding the facts or the news. It's not about creating a false reality or pretending everything is perfect. 

Rather, it’s an invitation to examine where you may be focusing solely and completely on the negative. Because I promise you, there is light even in the darkest corners and moments. 

That light shows up where there is gratitude. And that light will save us.

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