These are uncertain, even threatening, times: populism, flows of refugees and debts. In such times, we tend to close ourselves off from reality. We tend to return to our ‘own kind’ and focus on exclusion.

This feeling has deep roots in a natural mechanism, namely negativity. Scientists refer in this regard to the “negativity bias”. In terms of positive and negative issues, people tend to accord greater weight to negative ones. Losing 100 euros is an unmitigated disaster, whereas winning 100 euros is nothing special, for example.

Researchers preaching to the choir. In these final days of 2016, Erasmus Magazine has completely submerged itself in the topic of ‘religion’. What role does faith play in academia, what influence does it have at Erasmus University and how do scientists and students deal with their own faith and the convictions of others.

Negativity through time

In prehistoric times, negativity was a survival mechanism. A small mistake or an incorrect assessment of a risk (that lion!) could mean instant death. Today, however, negativity informs or even drives every facet of society. Negative news achieves higher viewer ratings than positive news.

The social aspect

In society, a different psychological phenomenon occurs. The more we are confronted by negativity and complex problems, the more we withdraw into our own worlds. The so-called “bystander effect” occurs: we are so overwhelmed by ominous choices that we no longer make a choice. We passively remain on the sidelines. Doing so will not help us, however. We cannot remain bystanders with respect to our own future

Doing so will not help us, however. We cannot remain bystanders with respect to our own future. Fortunately, there are alternatives. We know from research into motivation that spectres of doom create passiveness and contraction. By contrast, people become more productive, creative and motivated when working towards achieving positively formulated, socially relevant goals.

Global goals

In addition, in a macroeconomic context, the IMF has shown that real growth only takes place if it is inclusive, i.e. if it involves all layers of the population. It is a comforting thought. Signals are green when they are formulated in a positive and inclusive way. And let this be the case at the moment with the formulation of the “Global Goals for Sustainable Development”, Seventeen worthy goals that should make the world a better place for everyone by 2030.

And rejoice also that this positive and actionable agenda has been embraced by the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Inclusive, but also smart. And that’s what a university should aim at. Isn’t it?