Friday, February 6, 2015

Say "No" to Bad News Bearers!

     Earlier this week, I went into the DU bookstore.  The two clerks behind the cash registers were looking up at one of the television screens and told me, "We're looking at the news.  There's been a plane crash, and someone caught it on their camera."  I first wondered if something had happened between the time I had left home, and the time I went into the store.  But, no, the footage was from the plane crash in Taiwan that had happened earlier in the day; I had seen that already.*  As we chatted a bit, one of the cashiers said, "I rarely watch the news, it just depresses me."  I must admit I had to agree.
      In that vein, yesterday, as I was driving home, NPR was reporting on the situation in Jordan/Syria/Iraq.  Of course, a lot of that had to do with the murder of the captured Jordanian pilot by ISIS, as well as the Jordanian military's response.  The commentator pointed out that the video of the pilot's death was difficult to watch  And he also warned us that, if we didn't want to listen to graphic details, we should turn off the radio for about four minutes.  I didn't turn off the news, although I probably should have.
       From a different context, I had a guest speaker, Prof. Sarah Bexell (of DU's 
Institute for Human-Animal Connection) in my Honor's seminar, "Pets, Partners or Pot-roast" (a course exploring human-animal interactions, but also, primarily about applied ethics).  One of the subjects she addressed was the diminishment of our bio-diversity.  She showed a couple of pictures -- one of a very smoggy day in a city, the other of a beautiful day in the mountains, similar to the photo above.  She asked the students how each photo made them feel. The smoggy city elicited comments like "Gross" and "Depressed".  The mountain scene brought out entirely different responses:  "Happy", "Peaceful", "Energized."  No great surprise!
        Fortunately, in Colorado, we are most often able to look at scenes of great beauty, regardless of season.  It is pretty rare that "smoggy city" describes our physical surroundings.  Yet, we are subjected (or we subject ourselves) on a daily basis to the news equivalent of that "smoggy city", either intentionally--by turning on the news, or passively--through social media feeds.  Inhabitants of smoggy cities develop a heightened "fight or flight" reaction because of their environment, according to Bexell.  That can't be good for ANYONE. I would suspect that the same can be demonstrated in those whose "diet" is a constant stream of bad news.
       We need, of course, to be aware of what's going on in the world around us.  "Bad news" can alert us to injustices that cry for correction, and disasters that require our humanitarian response. But, if our "fight or flight" mechanisms are so highly elevated, we may be unable to do anything constructive, regardless of the underlying conviction that we ought.  Our inner reserves are frayed and/or depleted.
         I wonder if we can set aside time -- twenty-four hours or more a week -- as a media-free zone in our lives?  The news that needs attention will not have gone away when we return.  But, if we can spend the time we would have been tuned-in to the news, in some other, beautiful, pursuit -- play, art, sleep, hiking, enjoying our beloved -- we might return to the needs of the world refreshed, renewed and able to respond.  

         For some (I think primarily of our Jewish neighbors) this is called "Sabbath".  Whatever we call it, I would simply call it "Saying 'No' to the Bad News Bearers" for a while.



*If you missed the news on this, you can see the BBC's reportage 
here.  BUT, before you click on the link, read the rest of the reflection above.

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