We seem constantly barraged by negative news. It often comes in the form of negative mimesis. Here’s what I mean: One person insults someone, then that person returns the favor by insulting back. It’s a mimetic, or imitative, back and forth of negativity. René Girard called this bitter cycle “negative mimesis.”
The cycle negative mimesis is rarely broken. In fact, it usually only escalates. And for some reason, we all tend to be drawn to negativity like a moth to a flame. Social media and the media tend to highlight divisive stories, which continues to infect us with this negative spirit of mimetic rivalry.
Negative mimesis tends to produce anxiety, which in turn furthers the cycle of negativity. But there’s a solution to negative mimesis. We can replace it with positive mimesis by redirecting our attention to positive stories. Mimetic theory at its most basic level claims that we are all highly influenced by those around us. So all of the negative stories can influence us, but the positive stories can influence us, too. When we redirect our attention to more positive stories, our words and actions and spirit become more positive, too. And that positive mimesis can spread to others. The best antidote to negative mimesis is always positive mimesis.
I often listen to Morning Joe while I make school lunches for my children. The show often falls into the trap of negative news stories, but today there was a break! Henry Timms appeared to discuss “Giving Tuesday.” Timms founded Giving Tuesday in 2011. He saw that there was Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so he wanted to create a global event that would engender a sense of giving to local communities. In 2015, Giving Tuesday “generated more than $100M in philanthropic giving.”
Timms isn’t railing against Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Although there’s a place for such prophetic critiques against consumerism, they often only get us stuck in negative mimesis. Instead, Timms’s pointing to something better and inviting us to participate. That, I think, is what positive mimesis is all about.
Watch the segment of Timms on Morning Joe on the Morning Joe website. Watch last years interview about Giving Tuesday with economist Matthew Bishop, an advisor to Giving Tuesday, below.
For more on Giving Tuesday, check out their website givingtuesday.org