Spoiler Alert: On Wednesday, I was feeling tender and pastoral and the blog that day reflected that. Today I am cranky and channeling one of the Hebrew prophets…so read further at your own risk.
I would like to suggest in the strongest possible terms without actually resorting to profanity that any- and everyone of us concerned with the common good, with social justice, with compassion for our neighbor, with a vision of a world at peace – however inadequate we may feel about our personal contribution to any of the above – stop listening to what is loosely called ‘the news.’ And I mean ‘stop’. Just stop turning on the television or the radio (or any version of the television or radio which, yes, means not checking in on trending topics on our smartphone or computer, either). I propose we all just stop giving our attention to life-draining nonsense.
I am not trying to be fashionable or world-weary and cynical here; I’m serious.
What we are getting from the media and trending anythings is not news, it is PR or scandal or titillation or (often totally uninformed) personal opinion. It is not anything new or noteworthy or edifying or essential. Yes, NPR and PBS and Al Jazeera America do a better job than the rest of the networks with commentators who, generally, seem to actually know something about the topic under dissection-by-sound-byte. And I suppose that if you can’t stop cold turkey, watching or listening to one of those options is better than other choices. But I still believe we need to stop. Completely. Sooner rather than later. Yesterday would be preferable; today is a reasonable second-best.
You don’t even need to worry that you will miss something important because the vast vast vast bulk of what passes for ‘news’ is not news (see above). It is gossip. It is fear-mongering. It is — more often than we might want to think — outright lies. It is profit-generating for stockholders. It is vicarious thrills for those who desire vicarious thrills. What it isn’t is information necessary to the functioning of the community (whether that is your neighborhood or your planet.)
Just as a for instance, Donald Trump is not news. Donald Trump is a buffoon who is being given credibility by media outlets whose purpose is not to inform the public about anything at all; it is to make money. Full stop. But what Donald Trump said about [fill in the blank] is right up there in the first three ‘news’ stories every single day.
Ditto the possible volcanic activity at Yellowstone. Yellowstone has had two and a half major eruptions in the past 640,000 years – if we start counting from when the caldera was formed. The last major eruption after that one was 174,000 years ago. This is not news, it is geologic history. Yes, if the volcano shoots 240 cubic miles of magma into the atmosphere, it will be a big event…but there is not a single thing we can do about it, for good or ill. And wasting time worrying about it only distracts us from far more urgent issues.
I could go on and on and on, but you can come up with your own examples as easily as I can. Probably more easily because I stopped listening to the news almost completely a year ago. And here’s why.
Our minds and hearts and spirits and visions and hopes are shaped by what we see and hear in exactly the same way our bodies are shaped by what we eat and how we exercise. [I am not telling you anything you don’t already know.] If we listen over and over and over to the infantile tantrums and specious reasoning that lead to continual gridlock in Congress, and the violent proclamations of the NRA, and the tapes released by DAESH (which is the acronym currently being used by diplomats in place of IS or ISIS or ISIL because it does not credit that organization with being either Islamic or a State), and the prejudice and fear spouted by the ignorant that labels every immigrant an ‘alien’ and every woman a ‘bimbo’, we are absorbing a steady stream of poisonous energy. There is a limit to how much poison even the strongest constitution can take before our souls begin to die.
We may feel anger; we may feel disgust; we may feel righteous indignation. What we don’t feel as we ingest our diet of poison is strength and wisdom and agency. Our focus is on the negative and the violent and the hate-filled and the inane. With each passing year, our despair and the helplessness increase. Cumulatively, over the long term, negativity is a deadly energy drain. It is not life-giving; it is life-sapping.
For all intents and purposes, we have one life. We can choose to spend it caught in a vortex of paralysis (which is what the powerful beneficiaries of the status quo would prefer because it keeps anything from changing) or we can spend it healing, loving, creating justice, and making meaning.
If we want to do the latter, we need to resist anything that insidiously locks us into the former.
I propose that instead of giving our attention to some topic selected by a media executive somewhere (who, trust me, does not have our best interests or the world’s best interests at heart), we pay attention to the real issues and needs and strengths of the community in which we live and move and have our being. I suggest we listen to our neighbors and to their hopes and visions and about the real issues that affect their lives. I suggest we share our own hopes and visions about the real issues that matter to us whether that includes rich, multi-layered public education, or marriage equality, or safe streets, or mutually respectful relations between law officers and the populace, or between followers of different religious paths, or different political parties.
And I suggest that we notice that the vast majority of our fellow human beings are not, in fact, our enemies, a threat against which we need to arm ourselves…a piece of vital information lost in the drivel that pours out on the airwaves nonstop. The vast majority of our fellow human beings are benign, often kind, generally helpful people with good ideas and a desire to live peacefully and productively. I am not blind to the bullies (and worse), but such folk are often best handled by the immediate force of local public opinion. [I think of the African women who finally took retribution for wife-beating into their own hands. When a man in their village started beating his wife, they would gather outside the house banging on pots and pans, calling attention to his behavior in a way that shamed him into stopping. Locally, we understand our culture and its norms and often come up with excellently effective solutions to even the worst situations.]
Conversations with our neighbors build the world we say we want…because they build relationship and dignity and compassion and justice and mutual goals. It will not happen overnight. Backing ourselves out of the dead end we are in will take time. The problems that confront us are complex.
But I think we start by refusing to give head room and heart room to venom and inanity. If enough of us do it, media executives may realize that their bottom line is shrinking and if anything will get them to change, that will. But that is not really the purpose of the exercise. The purpose is to live in hope and in gratitude. The purpose is to uphold the goodness that permeates the universe. The purpose is to affirm and nurture life, new and abundant and grace-filled life.
Okay, less cranky now that I have that off my chest.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015 Immram Chara, LLC