I used to be woefully ignorant of current events. I wanted to care about the world, but I did not particularly want to care about scandal and politics. When I got to college, there were plenty of late nights discussing issues, but I rarely went out of my way to read a newspaper, and I stopped watching television, so unless it reached me some other way, the news of the day passed me by.
All of that slowly began to change the first time I lived abroad in France. That was, after all, when the United States invaded Iraq. When my friend told me about “Freedom Fries,” I thought it was an Onion article, until I saw the French newscaster explain it on television that evening. Upon heading back to the United States, I paid a little more attention than before, but life got in the way, and then I was back in France without good internet and without a television. Other parts of life were more important – such as learning to speak French.
Law school changed all of that for me. I remember my first year of law school listening to a conversation about the Enron scandal and having almost no conception of what people were discussing. I had heard the names before, and I knew something big had happened, but somehow, I had missed the specifics. I felt woefully inadequate. I decided lawyers should understand the issues of the day; we need to know what is happening. We need to be “informed.”
I am now at the other end of the extreme. My RSS feed and facebook feed are full of news organizations and legal blogs. Even though, because of the time difference to New Zealand, I wake up around the time the news day ends on the east coast, I read the feeds from earliest to latest. I like to know how the news develops. I read stories about Herman Cain knowing that he will never be the Republican nominee. I just want to be “informed.”
So, what have I learned? The news is depressing. The news is mightily depressing.
The yoga and meditation community have a different take on “being informed” by news. DO NOT DO IT!!! Generally, the advice is to purposefully ignore it. Knowing all of the heartache, pain, destruction, and ridiculousness of the world is only a drain on your system. All that negative information causes your own body, mind, and soul to react negatively. I went to a Laughter Yoga Seminar yesterday evening (more on laughter yoga in another post), and one of the facilitators said she has consciously stopped watching and reading the news. She does not want the negativity. One of the participants added, “if you cannot change it, why let yourself be depressed by it?”
I felt my insides tighten. I know it is true that the depressing news just makes us more depressed. But at the same time, I refuse to by into the notion that we should shut it out completely. There are people who take news vacations, a day per week or a week per month where they tune out. That makes some sense, but what if there is another huge earthquake during that break? I do not want to not be able to reach out to friends and family anywhere in the world because I did not know about the news. I cannot imagine missing it, even for a day.
But I also know how horrible, difficult, and depressing the news can be to read and see. From stories about war and famine, to stories about racial profiling and tea partiers cheering death, the media is not good about sharing the uplifting stories. It is easy to wonder if there are uplifting stories left.
I have waffled with these issues for years, wondering why I get more and more drawn in when I know it would be healthier to let go. Then last night I got an answer, and it was (perhaps ironically) from the person suggesting we should all just turn it off. Her statement, “ if you cannot change it, why let yourself be depressed by it?” made me realize that is why I watch the news. I may not be able to end poverty in Somalia, solve the middle east conflict (though I have an incredibly inspirational cousin working to do just that), or prevent racial profiling on planes in the United States. Chances are even better I cannot stop earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes.
But I can have compassion. I can tell hear and see their stories, share them with the world, and send metta, lovingkindness their way. I can ask that others do as well. The Quebecois have “Je me souviens (I remember)” on their licence plates, Jews say “Never Forget” about the Holocaust, and Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost begged Hamlet to never forget his story. This need to be heard, seen, and understood is deep.
That is why I read the news. That is why I share the stories. That is how we can hopefully all begin to understand one another. What began as a need to feel "informed" in order to be able to keep up with conversations among lawyers has become a need to feel connected to the world, connected to the people within it, and connected to their stories. Might it be possible for all these tragedies and wars and disasters bring us together enough to understand? I simply do not know. But I am going to continue trying to share stories and bring these issues to light. The more we see, the more we awaken to our deepest connections of humanity.
And just for my own sanity, one of these days, I may take up that idea of a news vacation.
What do you think? Have you given up the news? Do you seek it out? Why? Why not?
© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved