"If it bleeds, it leads." Ever hear that maxim of journalism? If you want readers, go with the scary, gruesome story—that's what gets hearts pumping and grabs attention. But what grabs our attention can also scare the heck out of us and shut us down.
Remember, what we do and say doesn't just influence our friends, but also our friends' friends and our friends' friends' friends.
Scary news might "sell," but we can also feel so bombarded with the negative that our "why bother?" reflex kicks in. Fear stimuli go straight to the brain's amygdala, Harvard Medical School's Srinivasan Pillay explains. But, he adds, "because hope seems to travel in the same dungeons [parts of the brain] as fear, it might be a good soldier to employ if we want to meet fear."
So let's get better at using hope. It's a free energy source.
Hope isn't blind optimism. It's a sense of possibility—delight in the new and joy in creativity that characterizes our species. So let's break the good-news ban and become storytellers about real breakthroughs. (Below, don't miss my top ten go-to's.) I'm convinced that in the process, we will strengthen our capacity to incorporate and act on the bad news as well.
After all, it's only in changing the small stories that we change the big, dangerous story—the myth of our own powerlessness. Remember, what we do and say doesn't just influence our friends, but also our friends' friends and our friends' friends' friends (yes, research shows it goes three layers out).
That's power! Here are some recent items that have made my day.
And if you're not excited yet, try these two final tales:
Close to home: Four years ago in Magnolia Springs, Ala., the conservative town government passed the toughest land regulation in the south. It's spending a quarter million dollars on a comprehensive plan to restore and protect its charming river from agricultural chemical runoff. "I'm a tree-hugging, liberal—I mean a tree-hugging conservative Republican! Which I know some people may say is an oxymoron," said Mayor Charlie Houser of this small town near Mobile. Brown pelicans are showing up again, says Houser, and he adds: "Cormorants up in the treetops ... Beautiful sight!"
Around the world: Three-fourths of Niger is desert, and news headlines focus on hunger there. But over two decades, poor farmers in the country's south have "regreened" 12.5 million desolate acres. In all, Niger farmers have nurtured the growth of some 200 million trees—discovering that trees and crops are not competitors but are complementary. The trees protect the soil, bringing big crop-yield increases, and they provide fruit, nutritious leaves, fodder, and firewood. Now young people are returning to villages in Niger, and school kids are learning to care for the trees, too.
Are you willing to step up as a solutions-news ban breaker?
Neuroscientists tell us our brains are "plastic," with new neuronal connections being created all the time, forming new "streambeds" in our brains that shape our responses to life. So isn't actively choosing what shapes our brains perhaps the most powerful ways to change ourselves, enabling us to change the world?
Facing unprecedented challenges, we can choose to remain open to possibility and creativity—not mired in despair. Surely, the latter is a luxury that none can afford. We can create and enthusiastically share a solutions story today, every day. It is a revolutionary act.
Here are my top picks to help you "break the ban":
Small Planet Institute
Ecologic Development Fund
ZERI (Zero Emissions Research Initiatives)
Your Olive Branch
World Future Council
OdeWire: News for Intelligent Optimists
Frances Moore Lappé is a contributing editor to YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. This article is adapted from EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want.