I remember the moment when I decided to turn off the news. I was in my car, listening to the radio, running errands with my kids strapped into their little car seats in the back. The station was live broadcasting a press conference with a political figure I despised. There was almost nothing he ever did that I agreed with. He was, in my opinion, ruining the whole world by being who he was and doing what he did to our country, our environment, our economy, everything I cared about. I needed to keep an eye on him. I needed to know what he was up to so I could push back and stop him. So I listened and read the news as a responsible citizen should. As Mad-Eye Moody would say, “Constant Vigilance”.
This politico on the radio had the gall to say something that was snarky, witty, charming even, and I laughed. I laughed at his good joke. Damn it!
Well, that was it. I was mad at myself for falling for his trap. He was destroying everything and ruining so many lives and I was actually laughing at his jokes. How could I? And then, just at that moment, my sweet, innocent kindergartener asked me a question from the back seat. I can’t even remember what it was, something simple I’m sure. Maybe she even asked me why I was laughing… And what did I do? Well, I was mad at the news so I yelled at her. Not a big horrible yell, just a normal, mom kinda yell.
And it struck me hard right then and there. This politician wasn’t ruining our lives. I was ruining my own life and messing with the lives of my children. How? I was frustrated and angered by the bad news that was being delivered in a constant stream from every corner of the planet right to my car, my computer, my door, and into my head and my heart. And me, I was dragging the weight of my reaction of worry and concern and horror into every relationship and encounter I had with all the people in my daily life. I was drinking poison and then spreading it across the lives of my children, my husband, my colleagues. Why?
Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
I’m not saying we should hide our heads in the sand. I’m not saying don’t get involved. What I am saying is that we need to step back and use our intellect to decide what we choose to consume. The news is incessantly available. That doesn’t mean we have to consume it. It doesn’t even mean that it is actually important. News is a business for making money. It is marketed to us. We all know the phrase, “If it bleeds it leads.” Well, why is that?
As for watching or listening to the news with our children, well, that isn’t a great idea either. “Media-related fears can have lasting effects on children,” said a study on the effects of news on children ages 8-12 by Juliette Van Molen, PhD, and Brad Bushman PhD. Their study proved that “intensely violent news stories, such as the news about terrorist attacks, could induce persisting fears, sleep disturbances, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Why would we bring that horror to our children? Because it is the “real world”? There is plenty of the real world out there, and I promise it doesn’t all come via the news. Volunteer at your local homeless shelter. Go plant a community garden that feeds the hungry. What is more real than dirt and hunger? You get the picture. We can teach our kids to meaningfully engage with their community. That’s how we change the world. Together.
Instead of being a gawker at the sorrows of the world, let’s turn all that energy toward the things that we care about most. Is it our work, our art, our family, our community, our environment? We can give money to a favorite charity, support environmental policy, help refugees, save endangered species all around the globe. We can spread our first-world wealth across the planet through Kiva. We can organize our people around the causes we care about the most. We don’t really need the news tell us what that is.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
My friends, your suffering for other people doesn’t lessen their suffering. Your positive expression of yourself changes the world. Don’t let that love of yours bleed out of you and steal your goodness through worry and despair about things you can’t change. That helps no one. Turn off the damn news and get to it.
“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” – Albert Einstein
What do you think about news and family? Does it affect your relationships?
P.S. I’m still a fan of NPR. But I am careful with how much I listen and when.