Monday, November 21
Monday, November 21, 2005
One of the most fundamental human needs is to make a difference. Those who can't make a positive difference discover at some point that it's a lot easier to mess things up for everyone else. Unfortunately, much of what society does to punish disruptive behavior only inflames the underlying need that drives it (prison makes people feel small, and then pushes them to learn the most negative ways to feel big). Consider how difficult it is for nonviolence activists to get publicity, and how easily a suicide bomber can dominate the nightly news. We're training people to believe that good deeds are pointless, while acts of newsworthy destructiveness captivate everyone's attention.
A system that pays more attention to negative acts is a system that creates negativity, by giving the impression that only bad deeds are powerful enough to get people talking. The solution is simple, but hard to convince people to try consistently: reward good deeds, and get everyone to talk about them more than the bad. Ignore people who try to use negative attention-getting devices, and then reward them when they make any attempt to use positive means instead. People generally do what they think will get others talking, so pay attention to what people talk about, which kinds of actions make it into the gossip pool and the news. It's a simple solution, but you'd be amazed how addicted people can get to rewarding bad behavior with extra attention.