“When words are both true and kind, they can change the world.” (Buddha)
Recently, I had a thought-provoking conversation with a friend about this subject. She admitted that she compulsively reads the news every morning and is concerned about the effect it’s having on her. She’s noticed that she’s become more pessimistic about people and more discouraged about the world. Sometimes she feels like she’s shutting off from other people and becoming isolated. All this at a time when she recognizes a need for just the opposite.
She’s not alone. I could relate to much of what she said, and I’m guessing many of you can, too.
The news is constantly with us, and most of it is disturbing. It’s a challenge to balance our desire to stay informed with our need for at least occasional peace of mind.
There are a number of elements that play into this dynamic:
- What we’re reading
- What we’re doing about it
- How we’re finding balance
What We’re Reading
What sites are you deriving your news from? Do they present the news objectively without telling you how you should feel? Or do they deliberately incite your outrage—either by bolstering your own views with name-calling and exaggerated or misleading rhetoric, or by denigrating your views with name-calling and exaggerated or misleading rhetoric? We can get just as riled by manipulative news that supports our world view as by manipulative news that refutes it. And a steady diet of media outrage will take its toll.
It’s understandable that we sometimes seek sources that will support our own positions or biases. It helps us feel less alone. But it also widens the divide between us and those with differing worldviews. I have an acquaintance who only watches FOX News. She—without irony—calls it “fair and balanced.” All other news is “fake news.” Conversations with her are like talking to a Stepford Wife. The divide between us is as deep as the Grand Canyon, and I find it difficult to imagine that ever changing.
An occasional media appraisal is always a good idea. Are we reading objective sources as well as biased ones? Are we distinguishing between news coverage and opinion? There’s a place for both. Are we letting others tell us how we should feel? Are we using our critical thinking skills?
Are we—perhaps—reading or listening too damn much? Setting boundaries is an important skill in so many areas of our lives. There’s a lot to be said for setting boundaries on our news consumption.
One way of setting boundaries is declaring news fast. While a total disconnect may work for a few (blessed) days, it’s neither realistic nor desirable for the long term. We don’t want to be completely clueless, and, unless one is planning to be forever cloistered in a sound-proof and people-proof cave, the news will penetrate.
A more successful strategy may be to limit what we read or how much, or even take brief periods of digital detox. If you take a day off from the news here and there, there’s little danger of missing out on important information, given our 24-hour news cycle. The more relevant question may be how many times do you need to hear the same story?
The boundaries we set are going to be unique to each of us and relate to our own need-to-know quotient, tolerance for repetitive information, and, frankly, our level of addiction to the news.
What We’re Doing About It
If we’re reading or listening to the news and then just letting it simmer and percolate, we’re cooking up a heaping stew of helpless. The more news we ingest without taking some action, the more powerless and hopeless we will feel.
So, it helps to frequently ask, “What can I do about this?” “How can I be part of the solution?”
For some, that may mean attending a city council meeting, or maybe running for city council. It may mean writing a letter to your local paper, or to your member of Congress. It may mean speaking up in a setting where you would previously have stayed silent and seethed. It may mean writing a check to a cause you support, looking for an alternative to plastic bags for your produce, or offering assistance without being asked. It could just mean journaling your thoughts or talking with a trusted friend. Any or all of these actions counter our feelings of helplessness.
Next time your stomach is tied in knots over the news, pause and ask, “What am I going to do about this?”
How We’re Finding Balance
One solution to media overload might be more media—in this case, media that seeks to inspire or uplift rather than to depress or incite. My friend and I tried to identify publications or sites that serve this need and, sadly, we couldn’t name many. One weekly bright spot we both enjoy is Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper; it’s a place that definitely focuses on the positive. Shriver often reflects on the high-profile news stories, but does so from a solution-oriented point-of-view. Her other stories and articles are consistently uplifting and positive.
Knowing there must be more, I googled “the most uplifting websites” and found these articles listed:
They offer a wealth of positivity. Depending on your own preferences, some of the suggestions may be too sappy, too religious, or too scholarly. They may be aimed at very different audiences. But there are likely to be at least a few that offer something you need: comfort, inspiration, laughter, a sense of community. Bookmark those and plan to revisit; or perhaps they’ll have a subscribe button. This blogging community also offers lots of uplifting and entertaining options.
Where do you go when looking to counteract all the bad news that pummels you? If you have a favorite site or publication that uplifts you, please share it. I know at least two people who are seeking to add some positivity to their daily news consumption. A little humor would not be amiss here, either.
Looking forward to some good news!
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ (Fred Rogers)