I was listening to a podcast yesterday about negativity bias. The idea, put simply, is that negative information has a greater effect on our emotional state and perception of the world than neutral or positive information. There are good evolutionary reasons for this asymmetry. Learning how to pick the ripest, sweetest fruit is certainly helpful, as anyone who has bitten into a mealy apple can attest, but you may not get a second chance to learn what a venomous snake looks like. The salience of negative experiences means they are more easily seared into our brains and resonate longer. Though it may be adaptive, this bias is often ill-suited to modern life. These days we are awash in information and there’s no shortage of negative experiences to choose from, a fact made clear whenever I am foolish enough to read comments on the sanctuary’s YouTube channel before going to bed.
Which is why we all need Willy B right now.
Granted, watching adult chimpanzees overcome their fear of the outdoors is a painful reminder of their tragic pasts. My heart aches as I watch Willy B make false start after false start while he works up the courage to venture out under open skies. Or when he clings desperately to familiar objects, stretching as far as he can to reach into the grass without taking his foot off of the boardwalk that is his lifeline. Or when he climbs clumsily up the ladder, searching for his footing, in a way that is completely uncharacteristic of a species so powerful and agile and for whom climbing should be as natural as breathing.
But we are so fortunate to witness his determination. To feel his courage. To share in his wonderment as he discovers the world around him and beneath his feet.
There could very well be setbacks to come, but Willy B’s efforts this past week have been deeply inspiring. To be honest, I have had trouble doing anything other than sitting quietly by the fence to watch it all unfold. There are so many other things to do and so much going on in the world deserving of attention. But Willy B is the story I need right now. And it’s been amazing to share it in real time with you, knowing that we are all cheering him on together.