Saturday, April 11, 2009

The 4-to-1 Rule

by Troy Chapman

Have you ever noticed that evil seems to have more influence on us than good does? Not only that, but we focus more on it as well. If 100 guys get out of prison and 99 of them go on to become paragons of decency and integrity and one of them commits a new crime, it will be the re-offender you hear about on the evening news. We know the news is negative, but it’s not just the news that’s negative. The same thing happens inside our own heads. In fact, the news is just a reflection of our mental process on this point. Someone can tell me half a dozen good things about myself and one bad thing, and it’s the bad thing that will stick with me, thumping around in my head like a bowling ball in a clothes dryer while the praise makes about as much noise as a silk stocking.

Another manifestation of this is that things fall apart more easily than they stay together. It takes work to keep things together whereas all it takes to make them fall apart is to do nothing. This is true whether we’re talking about our own bodies or our relationships and social well-being. This can be frustrating for anyone trying to build, well, pretty much anything.

Enter the 4-to-1 Rule. I’m loosely calculating that rottenness and evil has roughly four times as much influence on us as does good. In other words, we pay four times as much attention to it and it’s about four times as easy to do, or to allow to happen, in our lives than is goodness. If this is true, there’s only one thing to do: Increase the energy we expend on goodness by at least a factor of four. This is the 4-to-1 Rule.

Every time I hear something bad about someone, I’m going to come up with at least four good things about them and repeat them to myself and others. Or I will comb my mind for negative thoughts and beliefs and whenever I locate one I will stack four positive beliefs or observations around it — splash it with some good news like a priest at an exorcism and watch it hiss. I will demand four times as much evidence for evil in the future as I demand for good. If someone does me wrong I will assume it to be an aberration. If they do it again, I’ll assume it again. And again. And again. After four times I’ll think about getting cynical.

Henceforth I will go through life assuming that goodness needs four times as much attention and maintenance as evil. And once I assume that, I won’t be upset when it proves to be true. I won’t feel cheated if I already know and agree to the price. I’ll simply acknowledge that — as with growing a garden — if I want the fruit I have to put in the work. If I want a weed patch, I can just sit on the porch.

The Bible tells us to “overcome evil with good,” and I’ve always wondered, if that’s how it’s supposed to be, then why is good so, well, wimpy? Then I realized it’s not good that’s wimpy, it’s my application of it. And when I’m called to get off my bottom and do more work, I cry like a baby. “Why is life so hard? Why can’t I just sort of think a good thought and have that be enough to change the world?” So for me, the 4-to-1 Rule is an Anti-Whining Ordinance. I’m going to make a serious effort to stop complaining (even inwardly) and to be optimistic (i.e., have faith that the arc of the universe bends toward justice, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said) and simply accept that this is the way things are. Goodness takes work — like anything else worth pursuing. With the 4-to-1 Rule, I know exactly how much, so I can’t cry and claim I didn’t know it was going to be this hard.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Troy, Listen carefully to the noise of the silk stockings. Your words deserve such close listening--by your readers and by YOU.

I hope that when you get out of prison, you bring the positive energy of your brilliant words to improve the world.