Has Australia become too negative?
by Bob Selden, June 2016
Since returning to Australia after living overseas for seven years, one of the things that has struck me is the negativity of our language. “No problems”, “No worries” (I’m even getting these in emails and texts now) have replaced “That’s Okay”, “It’s fine”, “Sure thing”, and in shops “My pleasure” and “You’re welcome”. The country sayings of “She’ll be right” and “She’s apples” have virtually disappeared although I’m told you can still hear these occasionally outback.
Although I’ve heard “No worries” referred to as “the national motto” of Australia, it is extremely negative.
Even actor Richard Roxburg a.k.a. Clever Greene in the popular ABC series Rake is spruking about this negativity. In a recent episode where he is trying to console his drug addicted girlfriend he says “Hey, do you notice that everybody in the service industry now is saying ‘not a problem’ instead of ‘you’re welcome’? It does my nut in. I didn’t expect there was going to be a problem. You know I only wanted to pick up a latte – you’re a barista, I’m a barrister. We’re all so attuned to the idea of imminent catastrophe that we need reassurance all the time.”
There are three issues with “No worries” that impact our positivity. Firstly, there is no visual image for the word “No” so the brain only receives the negative image of “worries” which immediately alerts the “fight or flight” autonomic nervous system – our control system that operates largely unconsciously and controls such things as heart-rate, digestion and respiratory rate.
Secondly, when using positive or negative words over an extended period, functions in the parietal lobe start to change, which alters your perception of yourself and the people you interact with. A positive view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others, whereas a negative self-image will lead you toward suspicion and doubt about others.
Finally over time, the structure of your thalamus will also change in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings. These thalamic changes affect the way in which you perceive reality.
So it seems as though the simple “No worries” is having a negative impact on us that we are not aware of!
Where did this negativity all start? If we go way back in time, I think religion; Judaism, Christianity and Islam (to name three that I know about) have a lot to answer for. For example, of the 10 Commandments eight are expressed in the negative and only two in the positive – that sets the tone for a lot of things.
And in terms of Australia’s national motto, we can probably look to popular TV shows and movies of the 70s and 80s such as Neighbours and Crocodile Dundee which raised “No worries” to national and international prominence.
In addition to the negativity of our national motto, I’ve noticed two other areas of language that impact our positivity as Australians – a general lack of courtesy in our society and the hateful words used in sports reporting.
Let’s start with courtesy. I’ve really become aware of the lack of “please” and “thank you”, particularly in shops and restaurants. In fact, I’ve become so interested in “please” that I’m keeping score. In the last 12 months, only ONCE has someone said “that will be $3.50 please” to me and that happened at a small family Cafe in Bong Bong Street, Bowral.
How does being courteous affect our brain? To date there’s very little research on this. However, what we do know is that when one is being courteous by saying “please” or “thank you” we invariably smile. And smiling has a very positive impact on our brain.
Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. Scientists have found that the act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness in three ways. Firstly, smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Secondly, the endorphins released when we smile act as a natural pain reliever. Finally, the serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an anti-depressant/mood lifter.
So my mother (who always had the nicest smile) probably knew a lot about positivity and happiness when she insisted that I always say “please” and “thank you”. Thank you Mum.
And now to those “hateful” sports stories. I’ve always been someone who reads the sports column first, on the basis that that’s where you find the good news. Lately however, I’ve noticed an increase in the negative description of events. For example, football matches used to be described as “matches”. Now they’re called “battles”, “clashes”, “war zones”, “wars”, “a war of attrition”, even “hostilities”. And I read recently when a writer was describing an excellent performance as “he killed them”. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, such negative words have a harmful effect on our brain, our self-image and ultimately the way we perceive the world.
Is using positive words too Pollyannerish for you?
Researchers have provided substantial evidence of the Pollyanna Principle. They found that people expose themselves to positive stimuli and avoid negative stimuli, they take longer to recognise what is unpleasant or threatening than what is pleasant and safe, and they report that they encounter positive stimuli more frequently than they actually do. They also determined that selective recall was a more likely occurrence when recall was delayed: the longer the delay, the more selective recall that occurred. I know if I were running any customer service business, I’d be only too happy to see my staff act like Pollyanna.
Pollyanna was perfect and so was my Mum. Good luck Australia.
Bob Selden is the author of a new book “Don’t: How using the right words will change your life”. Find out more at http://www.therightwords.co/
Labelling of people, genres and groups – what does it mean and what does it do to people’s behaviour?
Over recent weeks, there’s been a spat of comments in the press (mostly on ABC radio and TV) about “labelling” of people and groups. For example, how are people seen when over a certain age they are labelled as retirees? This has a particular impact on their employment prospects and their potential (lack of opportunity) to pass on years of knowledge that will otherwise be lost.
The press reports around labelling (which is often negative) started with:
- Australian of the Year, David Morrison (whose main issue is equality, particularly in the workplace) raised the issue of labelling both sexes as “Guys” and the potential for discriminatory behaviour towards women who were called “Guys”.
- Then there was the Political Editor for Crikey, Bernard Keene on ABC’s Drum (Friday before last) talking about labelling – talking pointless: how the media enables the vapidity of political PR.
- And finally, my favourite show “Rake” and I quote: Actor Richard Roxburg a.k.a. Clever Greene in the popular ABC series Rake is spruiking about this negativity. In a recent episode where he is trying to console his drug addicted girlfriend he says “Hey, do you notice that everybody in the service industry now is saying ‘not a problem’ instead of ‘you’re welcome’? It does my nut in. I didn’t expect there was going to be a problem. You know I only wanted to pick up a latte – you’re a barista, I’m a barrister. We’re all so attuned to the idea of imminent catastrophe that we need reassurance all the time.”
I phoned into Tony Delroy last night, but was the last caller and had about 15 seconds to discuss the things that happen when retirees (and other generations) are labelled – people automatically build an image which is shared and eventually becomes a quasi-reality, often to the detriment of the group that has been labelled.
Be happy to discuss this further.
author of “Don’t: How using the right words will change your life” http://www.therightwords.co/
Does media advertising lose its effectiveness with a negative message?
Recently, the NSW Department of Motor Safety released a new advertising campaign targeting tiredness in drivers. It’s been found that tiredness is one of the major causes of motor accidents in Australia. Following is the TV advertisement to target drivers. It’s one of the best advertisements in terms of its emotional impact on viewers that I’ve seen in a long while. At the same time, it’s one of the least effective. See what you think …
Did you see the last screen shot with the call to action?