Let's be more positive


  • Living
  • Saturday, 21 Jun 2014

The World Cup can teach us Malaysians (and our politicians) why it's better to avoid negative and destructive playing styles. 

WHEN I realised an article was due right in the middle of the World Cup, I thought I knew what I was going to write: A story of how a team who is outclassed in every way gets lucky and scores a winning goal. In football parlance, it would be a smash-and-grab, and it was to be a piece on how commentators focus on the results and not necessarily how it was achieved...

However, something unusual happened in Brazil this year. Almost every team looked to play every game to win. Nobody just sat back and defended.

Consequently, every result so far in this tournament has been hard-fought and well-earned, and almost all who lost did so with their heads up high (for the exception, I’m looking at you, Honduras).

Look at the stats: More than three goals per game in the first round – the highest for a World Cup tournament since 1958. Even the highly-exciting Premier League only averages about 2.8 goals per game.

More to the point, the attitude carried by the teams has been exemplary. They’ve looked to create goals, not to destroy chances. In the game between England and Italy – where many had feared a dour draw in the heat of the Amazonian jungle, or a take-no-prisoners game of fouls both real and simulated – what we instead got was a game that flowed with great goals and slick inter-play. The pass completion rate for England and Italy were 92% and 95% respectively, the highest for each nation in a World Cup tournament for nearly half a century.

The exceptions to the rule have stood out in stark contrast: The fall of Brazil’s Fred in the penalty box when nobody touched him, and the “skill” of Palacios from Honduras in leaving his stud marks on opposing players.

But overall, the positive attitude has won the game many fans, especially in the United States, who have yet to embrace the football that the rest of the world loves. Even in defeat, there is much to applaud, as when Bosnia Herzegovina fell just short of pulling off a deserved draw against favourites Argentina. Or to not give up until the end, as both Ecuador and Switzerland fought for a winner that only one of them could get.

We all know the power of positivity. Countless motivational books and speakers preach the advantages of looking up and reaching for your dreams. Yet this year in Malaysia, it feels there has been a lot of negativity in the news.

The most obvious one was that surrounding flight MH370. But it wasn’t just the tragedy of innocent lives lost, but the froth of criticism that rose around it, taking the event as evidence of a bigger malaise within the country. Apart from this, there were many other issues, from ones relating to religion, to even how candidates for by-elections are chosen.

On the one hand, constructive criticism is always useful. Hardly anything we do is perfect, and knowing what our shortcomings are helps us improve in the future.

However, there is also criticism for the sake of criticism, negativity in order to provoke fear or uncertainty. Sometimes it is done because of hidden agendas. I’m tempted to say “politics” here, although politicians aren’t the only ones guilty of this. You know this is the case, if when you refute a criticism, a fresh new one conveniently appears to take its place.

Yet, many find that sending out negative messages is actually more effective than positive ones. Obviously, negative messages catch attention, create controversy and more easily manipulate emotions. However, negative messaging can actually damage the system as a whole.

For example, a Stanford University study of US Senate races showed that when campaigning was negative, it reduced voter turnout.

The authors suggested, “negative campaigning may diminish the power of civic duty and may undermine the legitimacy of the entire electoral process”.

So the people involved may resort to negative campaigning and messaging, but they may not realise (or care) that they are breaking the system in the process. Recently, I listened to a Malaysian MP responding to an issue raised by members of the public, and he said the problem is that the leader in charge doesn’t listen to the rakyat.

It struck me that at no point did the MP really address the problem raised. The speech he gave could have been used in almost any forum.

But there are many who do genuinely want things to be better. In which case, I would suggest that maybe you should try to be positive about where your criticism is heading. Instead of thinking who is to be blamed, look at it as a problem that needs to be solved.

For example, when a chocolate maker had allegedly included porcine substances in their products, Muslim NGOs declared a jihad. Wouldn’t it have been better to sit with the manufacturer and say, “let’s see how we can stop this from happening again”?

Of course, it is easier to be principled when there is less at risk. Another result the Stanford study found was the tighter the election race was, the more negative the campaigning became.

If we extend this to the World Cup, it may mean that the later stages, when more is at stake, will feature more cynical, negative play. If that happens, it will be a shame, and we will be right in criticising it. But at least we have had one week’s worth of joy before that (and hopefully no Honduras).

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