Home All Hateful Humor, Hit Counts, and Positive Politics

Hateful Humor, Hit Counts, and Positive Politics

written by Dave Shearon 17 June 2009

Dave Shearon, MAPP, applies positive psychology to both law and education. Dave writes articles about applications of Positive Psychology to law and education at his site. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.

Dave's articles are here.

Angry Face

Angry Face

Cruised any politics related web sites recently? Seen any angry, sarcastic, personal attacks wrapped in "humor"? If your answer to the first question was yes and your answer to the second was no, then you either cruise a VERY select set of websites (send me a list, please!) or …. Well, truth to tell, I can’t figure out how you might look through many of the top-rated websites and answer the second question "No."


I was cruising around the web the other day and ran into a post by a blogger who had just gotten his millionth hit. He was giving advice on how to do the same — and since I’m on track to hit that point with my blog in about 2037, maybe I should listen. Then again, maybe not, because two of his key points were to make some enemies and to use enough "vitriolic ad hominem to make sure he never forgets it." Note the lack of an exclamation point on that quote — no excitement here, just sane, sensible advice!

Pro Wrestlers

Pro Wrestlers

Now, let me note that this advice-giver also suggested that we not confuse "cyber-venom" with "real-world hate", suggesting that the vitriol in web space is equivalent to the theatrics of pro wrestling. And much of it probably is, but that doesn’t mean that engaging in such activities is consequence-free. I suspect that, for many participants, both readers and bloggers, there are very real consequences.

Losada line Two words: Losada ratio . Marcial Losada’s research established that positivity has a tipping point. At approximately three positive emotions to one negative, individuals and groups begin to experience life in a new way. Patterns of positive relationships, creativity, collegiality, and forward motion emerge that could not have been predicted before. Goals coalesce, pathways appear, and efficacy surges. Further research shows that the highest levels of group performance require a ratio of 5:1.

Of course, some of the participants in political discourse, both on- and off-line, may be able maintain a positive emotional experience. But many are truly riled up or truly depressed, and they communicate those feelings online and induce the same feelings in those who read their work. And don’t get me started on the commenters; many of them are clearly in the grip of strong negative emotions!

Town Hall

Town Hall

Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” And if you have ever wondered why your local politicians so often seem to get stuck on dumb things and rarely accomplish anything creative, let me add that local politics are VERY personal. As a school board member, I had other members say one thing to me privately, then something different in public, especially when the television cameras were running. I got flamed and blamed for things I had no control over as well as for tough votes where there was no easy answer. Those experiences can create some negative emotions. I suspect the same thing happens at higher levels in bodies such state legislatures. As a result, we see the results of narrowed thinking rather than broadening and building of social, psychological and physical resources we might hope.

What to do? I have two suggestions, one from my political experience and one from that great political philosopher, Walt Disney.



First, stay on message. Yep, the classic advice from political consultants. If you have set yourself a goal, or even found a calling, in the public sphere, focus your efforts there. Don’t get side-tracked, and don’t respond to every nay-sayer. Don’t argue every point. Just keep moving down the path you can see and trust that, ultimately, syncronicity will set in and the universe will move with you. And, if not, you and those with you will have obeyed Shakespeare’s admonition “to thine own self be true.”

My second piece of advice comes from that classic Disney animated film, Lady and the Tramp. Early in the movie, Lady, the cocker-spaniel character, goes outside in the early morning, gets the paper, and tries to bring it in. As she pulls it through the doggie-door, she rips part of the outside sheet off. Then we see the husband, “Jim-dear”, sitting at the table looking at the paper and the front page has most of the headline and picture for the main, above-the-fold story torn off. We can see enough to know that the headline contains the word, “Catastrophe” He says, “Have you noticed Darling? Since we’ve had Lady, we see less and less of those disturbing headlines!”

My point? Why add to the denominator in your Losada ratio? Of course we need to be informed citizens, but to the extent the rider rather than the elephant makes those decisions, we can likely pick up the information we need by searching out sources of vitriol-free information. Sure, those trashy attack pieces feel good going down – nothing like a little righteous anger! – but they are killing the body politic and our mental well-being even as the modern diet with its overload of simple carbohydrates is killing our physical well-being. And, while you’re at it, if you know any practicing politicians, you might suggest they work on their Losada ratios!

Images and media
Lady and the Tramp scene: If you’d like to see the scene, try here at approximately 9:24.
Angry Chris courtesy dave_apple
img0849 (pro wrestlers) courtesy of static
Protected or Enclosed courtesy of on1stsite
Town hall Jamaica Vermont courtesy of redjar

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Marie-Josee Salvas 17 June 2009 - 6:05 pm

Dave, I love your articles! Direct and honest, to-the-point while making us think at the same time. Thank you for this valuable contribution. I hope your advice-giving blogger reads your argument and gives it a thought.

LeanRainMakingMachine 17 June 2009 - 6:45 pm

Loved the article. I know a very senior national politician who is no longer in politics. His great lament was that the U S Senate had become filled with personal vitriol based on party and it had become very hard to accomplish anything worth accomplishing without great personal cost…

laura 18 June 2009 - 4:44 am

There are some great ‘good news’ daily websites that give a welcome relief to the headlines. Optimist world is one of my favourite – http://optimistworld.com/default.aspx. It’s got positive psychology all over it!

BECHA 18 June 2009 - 10:48 am


Newspaper Ignites Hope, Announces “Civil Disobedience Database”


Today’s fake International Herald Tribune is part of a rash of recent publications which mimic prominent newspapers.

Last November, a fake edition of the New York Times announced that the Iraq War was over.



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