I hear a commercial saying to call in and vote for who should get married on a TV show. What if enough people called in to maliciously put people with the wrong person? I considered what stopped me from doing that. The first dozen reasons involve not being malicious and not wanting to participate in the silliness. When ignored, the reason is that I want to do something effective. How do I know which bad match to vote for out of many? I feel ineffective. However, if I were voting for an obvious best match, I’d feel effective because many others would also vote for it.
If kindness has one route and malice has a dozen and people want to be part of something effective, they’re more likely to choose kindness. This is a very interesting find. How do the arbitrary boundaries of opposite feelings like helping and hurting affect our collective behavior? I feel like helping is one path and hurting can be many. This seems true for many behaviors. The positive offers one or very few choices and the negative offers countless. I can help a poor person by giving him money, or if I’m malicious, do any number of negative things to him, including torture and murder. The options to do something negative are innumerably overwhelming, so I may choose indifference.
One interesting question is why the positive seems to offer fewer choices. Is this something I’ve been taught? Something built into our psychology by evolution? Caused by the defining of the words that describe positive and negative action? Perhaps it’s because we imagine an ideal world slightly better than the one we see, but do not imagine a worst possible world. Our desire to be effective and the only reasonable collective action being toward an achievable ideal may predispose us to positive action.