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Positive or Negative Attention

When someone gives us attention, it generally provides a form of stimulation or recognition that arouses feelings in us. The attention may appear in brightly colored packages as smiles, hugs, and loving words (the positive attention), or in dingy paper bags as brush-offs, cold stares, and reprimands (the negative attention). Whenever people acknowledge you in any way - perhaps with applause, maybe with censure - you are moved - touched," so to speak.

To be attended in these ways is to be confirmed in the realization that we exist. And this realization is absolutely essential for survival. If we aren't successful in getting our needs met in life-affirming, positive ways, we will seek satisfaction in death-promoting, negative ways, rather than suffer the intolerable condition of being a nonentity. As the saying goes, "Negative attention is better than no attention at all." We should try to keep the ratio of positive-to-negative attention we offer ourselves, loved ones, and coworkers close to ten to one.

Let's consider a few examples. Marilyn invests energy in a project to help the poor of the country. She receives the support of her coworkers, the gratitude of her clients, and the powerful self-reward of knowing that she is making some impact on the world. Jeffrey defaces property with spray paint. He brags about it and finally gets arrested. In this way he affects his world by frustrating or horrifying others, and he receives a short-lived, sensational focus of public attention from his parents, the press, and the police. In Jeff's view, to go through life unnoticed would be far worse than suffering the consequences of his destructive acts. But he would be the last one to describe it this way.

Matt, at age six, starts acting out in school. His work reflects it. He immediately reaps benefits from conferences with the principal and counselor, and lots of attention from his parents.

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