I had a fantastic conversation over the weekend about consuming the news and being intentional about it. It brought to mind a ton of interesting questions, and allowed me to refocus on my own intentions around watching and reading the news. After Monday morning’s Las Vegas tragedy, I thought it would be timely to share some of these thoughts here.
I went to school for journalism & strategic communication, and also history, so I’ve studied mass communication, particularly over the last couple centuries, and am fascinated by how it changes as our media forms evolve.
Due to internet and technology changing at light speed, we’re living through a foundational shift in the way we communicate. I don’t have to tell you how pervasive the internet is, but let me remind you how new it still is. We’re still evolving our ideas about privacy. We’re still learning how social media is changing the conversation, even as it’s changing it in unprecedented ways. Cable news kicked off the 24 hour news cycle, but the internet (and social media) ushered in an era in which the news never TRULY stops. The speed at which news travels around the world has accelerated wildly.
Conflict is news, and the conflict is now never ending, never resting. And if we truly never rest from it, we become different people. Maybe not who we want to be.
We’re still too close to this new media technology to be able to truly analyze all the ways we (as individuals AND as a society) are changing because of it.
If I had to sum up how we are at this stage, in one word?
There’s so much information coming at us that if we keep chugging along on autopilot, we might find ourselves stuck in front of our screens, drinking in tragedy after tragedy before the last one is grieved or even settled, as if it’s cups of coffee we’re downing and not human suffering and pain.
There’s no end to divisive op eds and nasty troll wars in the comments section. It’s easy to believe the world is going to hell in a hand basket.
You can follow the twitter hashtag of a breaking news event that’s happening on the other side of the globe. You can witness the raw, unfiltered emotions of the people on the ground. You can follow as tragedies are live blogged, your eyes raking the screen for a tidbit you don’t already know. You can cry over the video of the grieving parent. You can witness the video of the assault again and again.
Here are two things I know to be true:
Humans aren’t made to digest this much tragedy, this quickly.
We have the perception that the world is more violent than ever when in fact, there are compelling arguments that the opposite is, in fact, the case. The difference is that back in the olden days, people didn’t see ALL of the violence and the suffering. It wasn’t in real time, and in videos from multiple angles. You read the newspaper, and then you finished the paper and went back to your day. The amount we are being asked to digest is unprecedented.
Stretching your empathy too thin doesn’t serve anyone at all.
An empathetic heart wants to help. We feel drawn to witnessing suffering because we care about the other hearts who are hurting. But a funny thing happens, we can start to feel like we must witness all the suffering. That if we don’t watch, it means we don’t care.
Eventually, the scales might tip. We might be so full of suffering and pain that we forget that’s not all there is. We forget that we can help, or are too depleted to use our power to help. We forget how our lives, lived with joy and love, can make a positive impact on the world around us. We become too tired to be the change we want to see in the world.
My media intake intentions
Once I found myself tipping too far toward the depleted, empathetically exhausted side of things, I put some new intentions into place for how I consume the news. It still matters tremendously to me to stay informed about what’s happening in the world, but I also needed to introduce balance and stay connected to the things that give me joy, peace, and hope. You know, the things that also mark this experience of being human.
My working intentions are as follows:
I want to be an informed and active citizen.
No matter what your feelings are about the government, its decisions impact our lives tremendously. Both for my sake and for the sake of my fellow humans, I want to use my power and privilege as a citizen to advocate for the way I believe our world SHOULD be, especially when reality is not measuring up to our ideals.
This means that I need to stay informed about WHAT is happening, so I can decide how I want to take action.
I want to be avoid depleting my precious energy when it’s not useful.
I believe my energy is best spent in my own circle of influence. The better I take care of myself, the better equipped I am to rise to the occasion when I’m called to make a difference when it is in my power to do so. (For a thorough explanation of this, I highly recommend reading about the Circle of Influence and the Circle of Concern in Chapter 1 of The 7 habits of Highly Effective People.)
Some practices to make your media intake more intentional
1. Balance your news intake with taking action
The most helpful advice I’ve found on balancing your news intake with taking action is from Jen at Get Bullish. I’ll let her explain:
“If you read 15 horrifying articles and make 3 phone calls, that’s a 5:1 ratio. Does that feel okay? Adjust until it does. Do not read 50 horrifying articles and do 0 things about them. You don’t need to read 25 articles, or keep watching television commentary about something you already know is bad, to do one thing.”
(There’s more solid wisdom where that came from. I recommend reading the whole post.)
Taking action might look like:
- Calling your congresspeople to voice your support or opposition to a bill
- Reaching out to a friend who is affected by a tragedy (whether it’s related or not to what you’ve been reading about)
- Making a donation to a cause that’s working to solve a problem you care about
- Having a thoughtful and compassionate discussion with a family member who doesn’t share your view (within reason…practice good boundaries here!)
- Volunteering for a local action group
- Examining and discussing your privilege and how you can use it for good (this one is important for us white people in particular)
- Or something completely different! The answer to this is intensely personal. Let your intuition be your guide.
2. Choose your news (both the sources themselves, and how many places you get news from) with intention
Pause to remember what’s important to you, then choose your news outlets accordingly. Here are some questions to get you started:
- Are you reading sources that deliver the news from multiple points of view?
- Do you trust their sources? Do they rely on anonymous or biased sources?
- Are you reading news all about one thing? Do you need to broaden your scope, or narrow it to be a little more “close to home”?
- Does everything you read come in the form of memes, 30-second clips and sound bytes? What would it look like to add some more in depth news coverage into the mix?
- How much time per day is ideal for you to spend reading news and social media? How much time are you currently spending?
If you’re not sure where to start, try unsubscribing from everything, then re-add the sources that you missed. You can also ask your most well-informed friends what they’d recommend.
3. Make space to process what you’re taking in
Pause to notice what your feelings are, and make some space before you continue your day. Don’t keep piling on more and more and more stimulation before processing what’s in front of you. Are you sad? Are you angry? Something else? Go deeper. What does your intuition urge you to do about it? Perhaps go deeper inward…or maybe take some external action.
Because I want to be intentional about processing my reaction to what I read, I’m trying to stop reading news first thing when I wake up in the morning. It’s not easy, but I’m fairly certain it’s going to be worth it.
4. Take excellent care of yourself
We can get so caught up in all the ways the world is suffering that we overlook or diminish our own experience. Are your basic needs met, right this minute? Are you being nice to yourself in your own head? When was the last time you felt sunshine on your skin and wind in your hair?
Please don’t forget that no one in the world is equipped to take as good of care of you, as you are. None of us see the world through your eyes or can know exactly what you need. Please help all of us who care about you, to give yourself what you need, and please ask for what you can’t give yourself.