Blog / 2024 / Holding onto the Happy

March 13, 2024

Negativity bias: you have it, I have it, we all do.

It’s our tendency to respond more strongly to negative information than to positive information, even if they’re of the same magnitude. We react this way because negative emotions are often more complicated than positive ones, leading us to dwell more on them. And it’s also possible that we, as a species, evolved to focus on the negatives as a way of protecting ourselves from threats.

Whatever the reasons for our negativity bias, it can be a real drag. I feel like I’ve spent my life making a concerted effort to overcome negativity bias, while also not floating off into the problematic lala land of positive thinking.

Recently, I got a little help from an unexpected source: a successful bid at getting some hateful vandalism in a local park cleaned up. If you remember, when we last left off on this story, I’d covered the Trumpy messages with rainbows, gotten some big press, and put a lot of pressure on the park superintendent to take this stuff more seriously. It worked, and, for a week, the bridge looked great.

Then the vandal came back.

This time, they re-Trumped the one bridge as usual, but I noticed that they’d also carved swastikas and an antisemitic slogan into another wooden bridge nearby.

River Road Bridge in the D&R Canal State Park with vandalism
photo by David, 1 March

I messaged everyone I know in town, and I asked them to make this a clear line for the park superintendent: she couldn’t let this neo-Nazi crap linger for months like she had with the Trumpy vandalism.

The superintendent responded immediately.

Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge in the D&R Canal State Park
photo by Gwenn, 10 March

Not only was the vandalism on both bridges quickly cleaned, but these laminated signs have been added.

Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge in the D&R Canal State Park
photo by Gwenn, 10 March

Even this new metal bike sign is important. The Trumpy vandalism started in 2023, when Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge, which had been closed for repairs for some time, was finally reopened. The bike sign should have been installed right away, but, for whatever reason, it wasn’t. Its appearance now will hopefully communicate to the vandal that the D&R Canal State Park—with all its legal authority—is interested in this space.

Because that’s the thing about violent people: they only respect strength.

It’s why my original low-key artistic intervention of oversized bandaids fueled their violence. The subtlety of the brown bandages on the brown bridge was lost on the vandal who was wielding a knife and an urgent desire to force the world to recognize their hate.

The rainbows, for their part, were a show of strength. They didn’t blend into the color of the bridge and they didn’t just cover the wounds inflicted by the vandal. Instead, they took over the bridge, claiming it for Lovers and Dreamers, à la Kermit the Frog.*

Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge in the D&R Canal State Park
photo by Gwenn, 1 March

The rainbows were so strong, in fact, that they’re still there! I noticed them on one particularly bright day when I was walking on the other side of the canal, and I happened to look over at the Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge.

Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge in the D&R Canal State Park
photo by Gwenn, 1 March

Originally, I thought park maintenance had figured out how to remove the wheatpasted paper with water, a scraper, and some patience, but they didn’t. They simply unscrewed the banister and turned it over.

Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge in the D&R Canal State Park
photo by Gwenn, 10 March

After the Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge was cleaned up in late February, my regular walks to the bridge became a positivity pilgrimage. Every time I saw the bridge without hate, I reconnected with the happiness of getting the vandal to stop and convincing the park to take action. It helped loosen the grip of my negativity bias a bit.

When the vandal came back—and when they spread their hate to the River Road Bridge, which is the small white bridge in the background of this image—I was frustrated. But I refused to believe that their odiousness was unavoidable and, therefore, not worth fighting.

In other words, nurtured by that week of dwelling on my delight and bolstered by the knowledge that the rainbows were still quietly claiming space, I was able to ignore my negativity bias and keep encouraging the park to step up.

rainbow bandaid design by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Rainbow Bandaid
digital design

It’s my goal this year to be on the lookout for ways to hold onto happiness and to help my loved ones do the same. And this rainbow bandaid design is one way I’m doing so. It’s a celebration of my community’s unwillingness to let the hate stand and it’s a reminder that there’s still more healing to do.

This design is available in my print-on-demand shop on t-shirts and hats and stickers among other things—you know, in case you want a little reminder too.

rainbow bandaid design on a tote bag
available via Redbubble

* I named my colorful artistic intervention at the bridge Rainbow Connection, after the little green muppet’s song.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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