By a series of choices and chances reaching all the way back into my childhood, my husband and I do not own a television. Well, that isn’t strictly true – we have a beautiful flat-screen TV for watching movies – but we do not have a television on which we can watch the 617 available channels filled with mud-wrestling and cooking shows and commentary that one can allow into one’s home via cable or dish or wifi or smartphone or pony express or… If connection is about having access to every last agonizing pimple in some reality star’s life, you have to wonder why everyone is always complaining about not having community. [Hint: it isn’t.]
This is by way of saying that I do not watch the news regularly. In fact, I only watch (as opposed to listening to or reading) the news when I am visiting my father and not often even then. Although at one time I would have said not seeing news was simply a consequence of not having a television, it is now a deliberate choice. [And, yes, before you ask, I do know what else I am missing by not having a television. I am one of those people still caught in a time warp at the end of Season Three of Downton Abbey while we are waiting our turn behind the 237 (really!) folks who had signed up for Season Four from the library. In spite of that, I am surviving quite nicely, thank you.]
Back to news: The world is filled with hundreds of thousands of daily events and experiences that are either benefiting human community and the common good, or damaging it. There are an almost infinite number of important concerns about which I can worry, and a few about which I can actually do something productive. In fact, I suspect we don’t have any more real ability to change the course of our lives than did our great-great-grandparents. We have just been brain-washed into believing that knowing more is automatically better…and I am wondering if that (largely unexamined) belief is warping our humanity in profound ways.
This conviction is stirring in my heart because ISIS has apparently just released another video of yet another horrific act of terror…and it seems that every news organization with the opportunity to rebroadcast it (including Google News) has, with serious faces and subdued voices, dutifully released it with the warning, “This is a graphic video.” Really? To what purpose are any of us looking at this video? Beyond, of course, giving the people in black masks all the attention and publicity they crave and validating their behavior.
On a slightly less fraught note, the headlines this morning on NPR informed me that the United States government is on the brink of another shut-down (if they can ever get out of gridlock long enough to shut down). Blame is being assigned and reassigned in 15 second sound bytes. Egypt is melting down – which segued neatly into the announcement that North Korea is busy posturing and threatening. This is new? Different? I can do what about this? The Ukraine is about to lose what independence it had (pause for a stab at the number of people killed in fighting over the last week) which runs into the announcement that drug cartels just gunned down another 29 people in Mexico (or 45 or 12 or 63, depending on the day.) Meanwhile, the United States Supreme Court is about to hear arguments which might shut down the Affordable Care Act – even temporarily – which will mean the loss of health care to some folks who will die as a result (quietly and unreported since they are not newsworthy enough to pop up on our TV screens at 6:00 pm.) Some of them will be people who live within a block or two of me, people I could actually help – except I have been distracted by my horror of something halfway around the world.
As an example of how ludicrous this can be, I listened to two women on an elevator worrying about whether they should have their nails done this week because there were some black women who used the same manicure salon and maybe they had been exposed to Ebola. At the next floor, a young mother with a crying toddler and an infant in a stroller tried to work her way onto the elevator completely unnoticed by the two women. I got off and found the stairs so the young mother could have my place (a semi-generous thing to do since I hate crowded elevators anyway). When the doors closed, I could still hear the Ebola conversation underway.
The question that is haunting me is: am I creating the very future I most fear by trading my (quite considerable) power to change life for the better in direct and local ways, for a tsunami of useless information about a place I can’t even find on a map? As long as I am sitting in front of the television, horrified and confused and convinced that the world is about to implode, I am not doing anything but spin. If I turn off the television (or, in my case, don’t buy the cable service) and allow Egyptians to worry about Cairo, I could actually drive my neighbor to a doctor’s appointment, or offer to watch her child one night a week so that she can finish her computer training and get a better job.
I have the time and energy and resources to make my neighbor’s life better. I cannot do a thing about ISIS or Kim Jong-Un or Mexican drug cartels. And listening to what passes for news on NBC or CNN or (even) the BBC these days does not equip me to act more productively. It only makes me think that I need to lock my door and my heart against 15 or 20 or 65 stereotyped categories of people who might be dangerous. It leaves me awash in adrenaline, and encourages me to become a cranky isolationist, a victim of (largely manufactured) fear.
What if I turned off the evening (or morning) news and used the same 15 minutes to ponder things that are true, and beautiful, and pure, and honorable? What if I watched the sunrise or listened to silence or birdsong in place of reports about unnamed victims of gun battles? What if I kept my head space free of the voices of my congress people hurling accusations and tuned into the cheerful (and uplifting) chatter of the check-out clerk who grows her hair for three years, never coloring it or using any kind of chemicals on it so that she can cut it all off – every three years like clockwork – to make wigs for children in cancer treatments. There is something true and beautiful!
What is the world I want to believe in? Because what I believe, what I value, will create the world I live in. I cannot change Kim Jong-Un, but I can change how I see the person waiting to cross the street with me at the light. I cannot help a Mexican student who is caught in the crossfire because she is in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I can help a young mother with a hungry toddler and a sick baby find space on the elevator, and give her a smile that says, “I was there and I survived. You will, too.” How do I want to live? Afraid or empowered? I can’t do everything, but I can do many things.
So, at least for the moment, I am going to take more control of the lens with which I look at life instead of ceding it to some news reporter I don’t know from Adam. I am going to use my time and energy to help rather than to worry and fear. I am going to choose to bless life and to honor joy and to celebrate honor.
Want to join me?
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2014, 2011 Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE: The first photo is the fiber piece, Love, which is available through my Etsy Shop. The photo of the cairn in the Burren, and the hands from Ennis, Ireland are both available as cards or prints, also from the Etsy shop.