The negative news and the Good News – a battle for the imagination

By Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh

How did we get here?  When did it become ok to bash people who don’t agree with us? 

It’s not enough to criticize beliefs but we continue to go further and attack individuals personally. 

When did it become OK to criticize people about how they dress, or what they wear or who their family is and how much money they have? 

I’m trying to remember when this approach wasn’t the new normal.  As an example, I admit to being old enough to remember when John Kennedy ran for president.  He was criticized because many Americans believed that his Catholicism would lead to the Pope running the country if the Irish Catholic senator from Massachusetts was elected.  They even thought that the Pope would influence the rewriting of the Constitution. (It’s interesting to note here that Pope John XXIII was the Pope at the time and he was busy attempting to reenergize the Catholic Church with Vatican II). 

John Kennedy said in a speech during his campaign in 1960, “Are we going to admit to the world that a Jew can be elected Mayor of Dublin, a Protestant can become Foreign Minister of France, a Muslim can be elected to the Israeli Parliament, but a Catholic cannot be President of the United States?  Are we going to admit to the world – worse still, are we going to admit to ourselves – that one-third of American people is forever banned from the White House?”    

It’s also interesting to note that Anti-Catholic prejudice was very much part of mainstream American life when JFK ran for President.

This “bashing” is not something that just impacts politics – nor is it something restricted to a program of vilifying the Church. Negativity in general seems to be the flavor of the day.  We have negative ads on TV.  We have negative programming that our children watch on TV.  Many of these programs use sarcasm and feuding as humor.  We have negative news reports.  Not only are we subjected to negative news reporting constantly, but the more negative reports become sensationalized the more it makes for better TV. 

Every time I look at social media I’ve noticed there are at least five sensational news stories a day; each one trying to outdo the other in negativity.  You can expect stories being emphasized about someone being killed, someone being raped, children left alone or, worse, injured through neglect or abuse, and people hurting other people in all sorts of gruesome and malevolent ways.  Of course, many of these stories are exaggerations or just untruths being reported.  I suppose it sells advertising.

Barbara S. Held, a professor of psychology at Bowdoin University, says, “There has definitely been a backlash against both positive psychology and the American culture of positivity in recent years.” 

Often times we can look to the leadership for guidance to take stories in another direction, but then we will turn on the news and hear about government officials, police chiefs, ministers and bishops, business leaders, etc., all confronting each other with their negative, angry and hurtful comments.

When Pope Francis talked about the top ten tips to happiness, he suggested one of his tips would be the following:  “Stop being negative.  Needing to talk badly about others indicates a low self-esteem.  That means ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up, I have to cut others down.’  The Pope went on to add, “Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”

Joel Osteen, Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston Texas wrote, “When negative thoughts come, decide to switch them off.  Shake off the discouragement, overlook the offenses and keep doing the right thing when the wrong thing is happening.  If you do this, in the end you’ll be vindicated, promoted and honored.”

One of the most serious concerns impacting our schools can be summarized in one word: bullying.

Do we really have to wonder why this is such a big problem when children are surrounded by so much negativity. 

The definition of bullying put forward by certain sociologists is: “Unwanted aggressive behavior among school children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.  The behavior is repeated or has potential to be repeated over time.  It includes making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally or excluding someone from a group.” 

Does any of this this sound familiar among adults today?  When it’s done with the aid of the internet or social media, it can have serious repercussions for any one and even become catastrophic in some instances.  These are our children and grandchildren exposed to bullying every day.  How concerned are we that these youth are also our future leaders?

We have to ask ourselves why we feel justified in this negative view on our politics, on religion, on schools, on society – on all aspects of our lives.   My husband and I have the same discussion when I come home from work at night.  Which news program do you want to watch?  Lately I have responded by saying I’m not interested in watching any of them.  It’s just too negative.  It makes me wonder how many other people are tired of the negative approach we continue to take.  It’s like we have this middle school mentality that never stops – a mentality, I might add, which is not acceptable in middle school either!

I continue to quote Jesus when he answered the question of one of the scribes, “Which is the first commandment?”

“The first is this, ‘Hear, Israel!’ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12: 28-31).

I don’t mean to sound naïve about the world we live in.  On the contrary, I find myself praying every day for much of the sorrow going on in the world.   It appears to me that we just can’t get past what we’ve done so well for so long.  Could it really just be as simple as needing to make changes in how we treat each other, from negatives to positive?   

My true wish is I hope we can get to a place where it wouldn’t matter whether our political leaders were black, white, male or female, Catholic, Protestant or Jewish; and we will stop the mudslinging that’s hurtful.  I hope we can stress more positive programming and for a change, just factual news, and finally and most importantly, I hope we can get to the point where the sins of the few no longer command headlines and the news alerts at the top of the hour….   

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