Sunday, March 7, 2021

Negativity Bias – Dukkha

I Corinthians 1:18-25

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

The sermon preached at my church this Sunday by Marshall Jenkins # dealt with this teaching you can listen to it here starting at 27:30: In it he describes two different sides of a war both desiring peace, just like Jews and Greeks or Gentiles in Corinth both had different traditions but both desire peace and a Christian life.  I find Marshall’s descriptions much more eloquent that my own. 

But I could not help but think about the idea of Negativity Bias as I was listening.  This idea is better explained by psychotherapist and a meditation teacher Tara Brach, “From an evolutionary perspective, it really makes sense that we feel uncomfortable when we envision positive things coming our way. Our brains are designed to scan for trouble and fixate on what might go wrong in any given situation. This is described as the negativity bias and it one of our hard wired survival strategies. Of course, it is a very good strategy for avoiding real danger. But, in the absence of a true threat, it limits our capacity for enjoying, and celebrating our moments. We have such a short time on planet earth. When the negativity bias rules, we get very loyal to our anxiety, mistrust and vigilance. We cannot inhabit the fullness of our lives.” +   

In Yogic terms we might call negativity bias Dukkha or as defined by Wikipedia “anything that is ‘uneasy, uncomfortable, unpleasant, difficult, causing pain or sadness’.” We are hard wired for survival.  Over the course of human history those that survived often needed to be highly aware of danger.  This carries over into areas of our lives where we do not need to be on high alert.  This takes us away from joy.  I personally marvel at those that can keep a positive attitude in the face of hardship. Finding Joy is a stage in iRest meditation, it is part of the ending section.  We do the hard work of dealing with our negative and positive feelings and then move into joy leaving the meditation there in peace. In some respects, this could be considered a way of tricking our brains into positivity, humans are just not smart enough to go there naturally.  But God is.

I found myself drawn to the last line of the reading from 1 Corinthians: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” This addiction to negativity, although necessary for physical survival, could be considered foolish and weak in the intellectual world. We should all be able to move between mutual respect for differing opinions or traditions, and still be able to run away from physical danger. Perhaps with God’s help we can.





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  1. Here is a link to read Marshall Jenkins' sermon:

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