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Misery loves company

I've noticed, particularly over the past month or so, that people are much more eager and willing to share an opinion when it is opposite of those voiced by other people.  I find this an intriguing feature of human nature.  Why is it that we rush to tell someone "I think you're wrong." and we refrain from saying "I think you're right."?  To illustrate what I mean by this, I'll summarize several of my Facebook wall posts, with the number of comments for each.  I'll split them into two categories: those that I feel are controversial in nature (that invite argument) and those that are peaceful, or that are meant to inspire happy feelings.

Controversial posts:
  • Mormon doctrine on interracial marriage: 56 comments
  • Homosexuality is natural: 59 comments
  • Ron Paul on the Daily Show: 0 comments (an outlier)
  • Dallin Oaks' relationship with John Eastman (newly appointed chair of NOM): 10 comments
  • Psychology of belief: 9 comments
  • God says homosexuality isn't sin: 10 comments
  • Mormon bishop resigns his membership: 72 comments
Average for this category: 31 comments, without outlier: 36 comments

Happy/peaceful posts:
  • Think for yourself: 0 comments
  • Memoriam for fallen LGBT people: 0 comments
  • Commentary on traffic court: 8 comments
  • Christian nations should take care of their citizens: 2 comments
  • You Can Make the Pathway Bright: 1 comment
  • Vigil for Jaymey Rodemeyer: 1 comment
  • A man seeking validation from his father: 3 comments
  • DADT repealed: 19 comments (outlier)
  • Bryan Regan comedy sketch: 3 comments
  • Comic interpretation of Lady Gaga's song Hair: 0 comments
  • Japanese expression of happiness: 4 comments
  • Come Thou Fount: 5 comments
  • Plea for compassion: 3 comments
  • Mitt Romney jokes: 6 comments
  • "There is beauty all around": 4 comments
Average for this category: 4 comments, without outlier: 3 comments

Obviously I didn't include every post on my wall.  I only counted posts that I made, and only those that I felt were clearly controversial or peaceful/happy.  Those that I felt were neutral I excluded.  But, the data is staggering.  From this sample, people are 12 times more likely to disagree with someone than to agree with them.  Why is that?  What makes us so eager to disagree and so slow to agree?

Personally, I know that I like being right.  So if someone says something contrary to what I think is right I feel like I have an obligation to disagree.  Sometimes this is because I want to show off my superior knowledge.  (Fortunately, I've outgrown most of that childish tendency.)  Sometimes I sincerely feel like the information will benefit the person I feel needs the correction.  I try to keep my corrections to those that I feel will benefit the hearer of said correction.  Sometimes I just can't see how anyone would disagree with my opinion and that if I just say it right then surely people will come around to my way of thinking.  At any rate, there are lots of reasons that I argue with people, lots of reasons that I feel a need to contradict people or to debate an issue.

On the other hand, I have often felt a desire to say something like "You know, you're right." or "That's an excellent idea." to someone and have felt strange inhibitions in doing so.  For example, I might think that saying something like that would be too sappy and don't want to come across as insincere.  Sometimes it requires too much humility.  Many times I figure "What's the point of saying anything--they already agree with me." (Or, alternatively, that they already know the "right" answer.)  

So, what's the best thing to do?  I'm an optimist.  I am a positive person.  I like being positive.  I like having a smile on my face and a bright outlook on life.  I like thinking the best of people rather than seeing their faults.  I like making people happy.  As you can see, the number of posts on my wall of a pleasant (or at least diplomatic) nature outweighs the number of critical/controversial posts at least 2-to-1.  (I took the same exact time frame for both categories in this sample.)  Also, if I were to go through all of the comments I have made on other people's posts, I would be surprised if more than one in five was a non-positive comment.  I sincerely do like spreading cheer.  So why don't I do it more often?  I don't know.  I'm not sure what holds me back, but I've been working on that for several years now.  I used to find it extremely difficult to compliment people.  I used to have all sorts of excuses to keep me from saying all of the happy thoughts that would pop up in my head.  "It's not normal to be happy" or "They'll think you're mocking them" etc.  I'm doing much better at ignoring these silly voices.  

I've also noticed that negative things tend to stand out far more than positive things.  For example, as seen above, less than one third of my posts have been of a negative nature over the last month, and yet I have people who tell me that all I ever post is negative things.  I also had someone recently make a comment to that effect on my blog.  Just a week or so ago, I had a cousin email me with a very kind and loving (and long) message.  Rather than focusing on the many happy, wonderful things that she said, I picked out the one thing in the message that I found affronting and I focused on that, giving her a very negative reply.  Why is it that we tend to notice these negative things more than the positive ones?  Are we really so eager to have other people disagree with or offend us that we actually look for excuses to disagree or be offended?  Do we all walk around with a chip on our shoulders?  And how to we break free from this seemingly compulsive tendency that we have to argue and focus on negative things?
Stript, wounded, beaten nigh to death,
I found him by the highway side.
I roused his pulse, brought back his breath,
Revived his spirit, and supplied
Wine, oil, refreshment—he was healed.
I had myself a wound concealed,
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart.
-"A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief", LDS Hymn #29 words by  James Montgomery

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