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Fight your brain’s negativity bias by seeking the good in others


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Tony Rossi - published on 06/21/17

The following is a guest post from Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., from The Christophers’ Board of Directors.

“Hope looks for the good in people instead of harping on the worst.”

This is the opening line of a reflection entitled “Hope in Action,” written by The Christophers’ founder, Father James Keller, M.M. It is a line that seems to answer the call of Christ when He said, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

After all, who among us would want to be judged by our faults rather than our triumphs? Christ called this instruction “the law of the prophets,” so focusing on hope in relation to our treatment of others is a good starting point for a reflection on this supernatural gift that can transform our lives.

In his article for Psychology Today entitled “See the Good in Others,” Dr. Rick Hanson explains that scientists have actually identified a “negativity bias” common within the function of the human brain. He writes: “We’re most likely to notice the bad qualities in others rather than the good ones: the things that worry or annoy us, or make us critical.” But he goes on to show how a focus on the good can produce remarkable results.

Dr. Hanson recalls being the last guy picked for sports teams when he was a kid. That damaged his self-esteem, but in his first year at UCLA, he joined an intramural touch football team. Their quarterback was very talented and after the first practice, he said to Hanson, “You’re good and I’m going to throw to you.”

That quarterback chose to relate to his teammate with a spirit of hope and inspired Hanson to have the confidence to become an important contributor. Hanson writes, “Thirty-five years later I can still remember his comment. He had no idea of its impact, yet it was a major boost to my sense of worth.”

It is only when we choose to see the good in ourselves and others that the miracle of hope is made possible. On August 15, 1999, 23-year-old Cornealious Michael Anderson III robbed a man at gunpoint in St. Charles, Missouri.

The following year, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was released on bond while his attorney appealed the conviction, which was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court of Missouri. Anderson awaited a summons to serve his time, but due to a clerical error it never came. So he went about living his life. He became a master carpenter and started his own construction company. He became a football coach, volunteered at a church, got married and had three children.

Thirteen years later, the Missouri Dept. of Corrections discovered its error and remanded Anderson to prison to finally begin serving his 13-year sentence. He remained in prison for a year, but his case came to international attention and a petition circulated for his release.

After a brief court hearing, a judge declared Anderson a changed man and freed him to return to his family. That judge chose to see the good in a former criminal and became part of the miracle of hope that Anderson set in motion when he chose to see the good within himself.

Christ’s resurrection teaches us that the miracle of hope is a gift from God that has no boundaries. When we relate to each other in a positive manner, we make that miracle possible in each other’s lives. So focus on the good and watch the miracle of hope come about in the world around you.

(Follow The Christophers on Facebook and Twitter)

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