Polimom’s Adorable Child (AC) had a tough time in school last year. She and her Best Friend Forever (BFF) du jour kept getting into trouble, picking on younger kids, and defining exclusionary cliques that were deliberately designed to hurt feelings. Needless to say, the parents of those kids – and the school – were singularly unimpressed with AC.
Polimom was beside herself. The entire situation was so unlike AC, who was granted such a sunny disposition that I nicknamed her “Sunshine” years ago. Further compounding the situation was an odd tendency – by everyone - to focus on AC as the source of the problem.
It wasn’t until I got to know that BFF better that things came into focus; AC was mirroring and internalizing BFF’s fundamentally negative outlook. Since AC has overt “leadership” qualities, the dynamic was being completely obfuscated, but once I got a handle on the cause, there were (as ever) a number of ways to approach and undo the problem, and things are fine again.
“So”, you say, “Why share this story out of left field? What do little girls’ ugly tendencies have to do with the larger world?”
Glad you asked!
Between one thing and another, we’ve seen a number of instances recently where people (read: bloggers) have been able to bring their readers into their own poisonous negativity. (My posts on this here, here, and here.) What has bothered Polimom the most about the entire phenomenon is how easily these angry flame-throwers can send others into an equally heated (or worse) attack mode; basically an internet mob mentality.
Last night, I went to bed pretty sure they were all nuts — and while I’m not convinced otherwise this morning, at least I can connect a couple of dots via an excellent post by Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users. Basically, she says:
- People learn from watching others because we’re hard-wired to do so via mirror neurons. This is the root of empathy.
- Emotions are contagious; negative emotions are easiest to catch.
- Happiness (i.e.: positive emotion) leads to better health overall.
Oh. That would seem to explain rather a lot, yes?
Of course, you’re unlikely to catch this ugliness if you’re paying attention (unless you started there…)… so at eight, AC can probably avoid this problem now that she knows about it. Polimom isn’t too worried about that anymore, although I expect we’ll revisit.
However, adults who consider themselves to be rational individuals, but find themselves foaming and raving at a stranger on the internet because of something they read elsewhere might want to spend a bit of time reading Sierra’s piece. Otherwise, they might not realize they’ve allowed someone else’s irrational anger to hijack their emotions.
Knowledge is power, but it only helps if people acquire it.