Do you want to hear the good or the bad news first? We’ve all been given this option at some stage in our lives. In the end it never really matters because we’re going to be given both kinds of news anyway. So as choice goes, this one clearly is only choice of a temporary nature.

I’m not sure what the stats are on how many people opt to hear the bad news first, or the good. I’m fairly certain though that most would happily get the bad news out of the way so they could shove it to one corner of the mind, allowing ample mind space for the good news to sweep in and take over. It’s a bit like making dessert the last course — everyone leaves the table with a nice sweet taste in the mouth, especially if a dish of curry laced liberally with chili preceded it.

Literature, too, loves the bad guy — especially the ones that start out as villains, but somehow through some personal journey find their way towards the good end of the spectrum. We’ve heard it a lot, people saying, ‘So and so deserves a shot at redemption.’ But back to the good news/bad news givers.

My mate Barney was telling me recently about a former colleague who somehow always managed to have both good and bad news to impart at the same time. For example, the time when his electricity bill went through the roof. What used to be a pretty consistent quarterly bill, suddenly in the final quarter of the year showed a nearly 100 per cent spike. When one finds oneself a thousand dollars out of pocket in the blink of an eye, I think one is justified in telling everybody about it.

One’s got to bring such things to attention, even call in the local television stations that deal with just such a thing and make a tidy news story out of it, generating discussion and sometimes even bringing about change. So this colleague would narrate his tale of injustice to every willing listener, beginning with the usual: “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.” And then he would proceed to — without giving the listener the customary choice — give them the bad news. In this way everybody knew about his being overcharged by the electricity company. And by the end of the long and winding story, few listeners realised that they had a choice, and that the good news hadn’t been delivered.

As a matter of fact, said Barney, nobody really stopped him to say, ‘Hang on! If that’s the bad news and it does sound terrible, what’s the good news?’ And if nobody asked, nobody got told.

It was a personality thing with his ex-colleague, Barney reckoned. He apparently simply enjoyed being the bearer of bad tidings. It gave him some kind of pleasure to see others placed in a certain state of discomfort. When, on the odd occasion, he was prompted, “And what’s the good news?” He’d wave his hand in a dismissive gesture to signify that the good news was so trivial it didn’t bear talking about and so the less said the better.

Do you know that there are people like that? Barney asked me, and I said I really hadn’t been paying close notice. “There’s me,” he said, with a smile and I gave him one in return. “And there’s you,” he added. Me? “Yes, you. You’ve listened so long even our coffee has gone cold, but you’re yet to ask me what was the good news my ex-colleague said he had.” I realised with a start that, indeed I hadn’t.

Turns out it was a case of fraud. A neighbour of the ex-colleague had been tapping into his electrical line. When this came to light the ex-colleague was not only refunded, but received a bonus of sorts that he refused to divulge. Keeping that part of the good news to himself. We are, for sure, a complex lot.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.