My landlord in Philadelphia once told me he and his wife had stopped watching the news years before, and that they’d never been happier. I was a nightly news watcher and Philadelphia Inquirer subscriber. I had no concept of how one might *not* watch the news. Isn’t not watching the news the equivalent of saying you don’t care about what’s happening in the world?
Then a couple years later, I moved to Italy. I didn’t speak much Italian, and as anyone new to the country can tell you, TV news and newspapers here are beyond frustrating for those already struggling with the language. So I started getting more of my news from the Internet, where I got to pick and choose buffet-style — and got out of the habit of the daily news broadcasts and newspapers. What a gift I had inadvertently given myself.
Turning off the news was a major turning point on my path to a simpler lifestyle.
Constant images of senseless death, cruelty, and crime can make it easy for someone to lose hope in humanity and build a large, impenetrable wall around them. For me, the lack of the news’ negativity injected into my routine has actually helped me change my basic approach to life.
Right around the time I moved to Italy, I realized that having a positive outlook in life is a choice. Yes, some people are lucky enough to be born that way, but I wasn’t, and my family isn’t full of “look on the bright side” kind of people either. But one of the greatest aspects of being human is that we have the ability to control our reactions to situations — and by choosing to focus on the positive, one small instance at a time, I’ve slowly adopted a whole different perspective than I used to have.
Of course I still have my cynical moments, but I more easily recognize them now, and I’m better equipped to overcome them more quickly than before. Turning off the news, interacting with kind neighbors and Internet friends, seeking out uplifting rather than tragic stories, and being mindful of who and what I allow into my life has made me calmer, more productive, and, I’d venture to say, a nicer person to be around.
Being selective about the news you absorb is a way of living deliberately and mindfully.
Instead of mindlessly listening to newscasters chatter away about one murder, rape, robbery, etc., after another, I now choose the news stories that enter into my life and to what extent; I can gauge for myself the time and space I need to process the information. Through this careful selection, I am more open to recognizing and appreciating the good in the world — and there is so, so much if you pay attention — instead of focusing on the bad. This holds true for world events as well as for simple, daily pleasures.
Consciously paying attention to the news has had another unexpected result: I feel even more connected with fellow humans around the world. I can delve deeper into the truly important stories (as determined by me), and I no longer have the “shiny object” syndrome that so many media outlets have. With fewer stories competing for my attention, I can harness and direct my energy toward issues that really matter to me instead of having my mind flit from one meaningless story about some reality show participant to another, filling up my head with people and stories I just don’t care about.
But then there are time like these when tragedy simply envelops us. My heart breaks, and my old habits try their best to kick back in. They push me to check news websites much more frequently, to keep refreshing the Twitter stream to learn the latest information. I want to know what’s going on every second of the day in Japan and Libya, in particular — as if just by paying attention, I’m somehow helping. A certain level of watching *is* helpful, of course, as it has also inspired me to act in my own small ways, but for me personally, there definitely can be too much of a bad thing.
Too much negativity around me makes me feel saturated, overwhelmed, impotent, and hopeless — and that doesn’t help anyone.
Yes, I have come to realize that I need to know when to say when. For me, all news must be done in moderation. As I trudged through work assignments this past week, my fingers felt like they were typing through mud; even when I’ve had the news tuned out, others’ suffering has never been far from my mind. And I never forget how lucky I am to have that choice to turn it off, try to tune it out, and deal with my own problems, so extraordinarily miniscule in comparison.
It’s important to remember as well that there are also plenty of inspiring stories out there even in the midst of tragedy, and with a positive outlook, I’m able to focus on those and strengthen my belief in the kindness and humanity of others. As tends to happen in catastrophe, the world has pulled together first through countless charities for Japan and more recently with the U.N.’s resolution invoking a no-fly zone in Libya.
There are also the amazing stories of individuals such as the brave souls *still* risking their lives at Japan’s nuclear reactors, working to prevent an even greater disaster, the courageous common folk in Libya fighting for their freedom against seemingly insurmountable odds, and the countless Libyans who have reached out to the rest of the world for help, knowing that even their putting their voice on Anderson Cooper 360 could sign their death warrants. Beyond inspiring.
And so back in the safe confines of my medieval hilltop village, I continue to try to balance living my relatively simple life with staying informed and involved with world events — and accept the fact that sometimes it means turning off the computer, going on a longer walk with the dogs, doing more yoga, and spending extra time with the goats. And writing more. Or less. Lately it’s been less, but hopefully that will change.
To those in the throes of these tragic events, I will continue to keep you in my thoughts — I couldn’t keep you out if I tried.
And for those who also feel such events deeply and struggle with finding a balance — I *know* I’m not alone in this quest — I wish you strength and luck in finding your way as you keep your caring eyes on world events but still continue to live your life, seek out small joys in your personal world, and most importantly, not feel guilty about doing so.
I certainly don’t mean to suggest turning a blind eye to others’ problems or forgetting for one moment about what’s happening around the world — not at all — but we must reach an appropriate balance in each of our lives. There’s no one right answer for everyone on how that can be achieved, but it is our responsibility to seek it out. And if turning off the news once in a while (or always) will help you get there, I hope you’ll consider doing so. That one action has been so very important in my journey toward simplicity and living with focus.
Each of us must be at his or her best to do the most good for ourselves and for others.
And for me, that’s impossible to achieve if I’m crying in front of a computer screen all day.
How do you find your personal balance when tragedies abound?