I once worked for a newspaper editor who defined news with a marvelous little example: it isn't news if a dog bites a man. But it's a helluva story when that same man bites the dog.
And so, news is the stuff of the out-of-ordinary. By and large, news focuses on the negative: a fire that kills a hundred elderly residents of a nursing home, a serial killer who murders co-eds on a college campus, a Wall Street schemer who bilks unsuspecting investors out of millions of dollar in life savings.
To those who ask, why is news so negative, we in journalism often reply by saying that the reading/watching public may think they want good news stories, but more often than not those stories bore the socks off of us. And they don't sell newspapers or build TV ratings.
So what does all this have to do with anything?
If you are reading the papers this morning, you might think things are going very badly for health care reform. The papers are focusing on the negatives: we read that Obama's timeline -- to get legislation out of both houses before the August recess -- is looking more and more unlikely. We read that Democrats are losing faith in the legislation, fearing that it threatens economic recovery. Critics in both parties contend that it's too big, too ambitious and it gives the federal government too much of a role in health care delivery.
Obviously, there is some truth in what they are reporting.
But consider the progress that was made this week: two House committees voted the health care bill out this week with less than a handful of Democratic members dissenting. In the Senate, Democrats voted unanimously in favor of the bill that emerged from Senator Kennedy's health committee.
The American Medical Association, which has opposed health care reform since FDR's time, came out in favor of the House bill. The American Nurses Association did the same.
So here we have one of those glass/full-glass/empty situations. Is it time to be optimistic, to celebrate recent progress? Or should we focus on the obstacles still ahead?
The media by its very nature will play the role of skeptic or outright doubter, dismissing (or even ignoring) the positive, and emphasizing the naysayer point of view. Nothing in government ever works right. No politician or president can possibly deliver what he/she says he/she will deliver.
Do we as a society benefit? Does a focus on the negative, and a relentless devotion to the skeptical, help?
More and more research suggests that individuals benefit enormously from positive mental outlooks. In my own experience, battling cancer seven years ago, I defied the doctor's predictions over and over again when I focused intensively (through meditation, visualization, etc.) on improving my health, rather than giving into my oncologist's consistently grim expectations. He once insisted that I would need a transfusion the following week.
"So just come in prepared for it," he said.
That week I took special steps to boost my blood profile.
When I showed up the next week at Sloan Kettering, and had my blood test, the oncologist (a rather cocky SOB) stormed into the waiting room.
"What did you do?" he shouted at me, right there in the waiting room. I was calmly eating a banana. I told him I had had a good friend who is a shamanistic healer "drum" me with her giant four-foot drum.
"Oh, and I also ate a hamburger last night," I said.
"Well I don't know what you did, but you don't need the transfusion," he sputtered, obviously disappointed in my good outcome (yes, doctors do sometimes have odd points of view on health and disease, seeming to prefer dealing with the latter).
In another example, the same doctor predicted that I would have at least three or four cases of serious bronchitis a year post-treatment. I am happy to report I have had maybe one cold in that whole seven years!
In matters of personal health, if you believe in your own powers of healing, you are much more likely to be healthy.
So I would suggest that as a nation we would do a lot better to focus on the positive, and to believe heart and soul in our own powers to remake the health care system that is so in need of healing.
The president, in his weekly radio address, takes that "can do" and "can fix" attitude. Despite the naysayers, and the greedy special interest groups who are hellbent on killing health care reform, Obama says we are still in a good position to pass legislation that will reform the health insurance system and make available to all Americans quality, affordable care.
America chose Obama last November precisely because of this hopeful outlook. He defied all the odds and won an election the pundits doubted he could win.
At this moment when health care reform hangs in the balance, we as a nation owe it to ourselves and our children to believe that reform can happen, to see the glass at least half full.