08 July 2016

New Rule for Bad News?

Ramadan ended last week. Observant Muslims change their behavior for a month, fasting and praying. Each Sunday, observant Christians step out of their day to day routine to meditate on something other than the concerns of "this life." Old religions know the importance of shifting away from daily concerns to elevate thinking in order to enable a person to be more compassionate and intentional about a life. It might be worth borrowing from them even for communities not bound by a common religion.

What if - one week a month - you could only write negative things about what happened to you?

"When life gives you lemons, shut up and eat your lemons"

-             - Bumper sticker

I don't mean that you could only write negative things. I mean that you could not write about some tragedy or injustice that happened to someone else. If you actually witnessed - first hand - someone get shot, you would be expected to express outrage or sorrow over that. But if it happened outside of your own zone of experience - that is, if you depended on the media to be informed about it - then you can't discuss or write about it that week.

The problem with the 24-7 media is that there is no end of outrage and tragedy. Modern media is designed to sift through the actions of 7 billion people every moment to focus on the most tragic and maddening behavior. And the vast majority of what saddens or outrages us is something we would never know about in our own daily lives. It's easy to lose perspective and to think that this is a terrible world we're living in when in fact all that is happening is that we know so much more about what is going on in another state or country.

If you were forced to just look at what outrages and tragedies you faced, most likely your outrages would be petty. "That stupid barista. I clearly told him soy milk, not whole milk." "Did you see the way she changed lanes without even looking over her shoulder?" And the tragedies, too, would be small. "I got a cold today. In summer!" "I was so mortified. I tried to put on my comfortable jeans and they are now tight!"

Our lives are so much better than the media leads us to believe. I've said it before but I'll say it again: not only does the 24-7 media keep us steadily supplied with fodder for outrage and sadness but it rarely adds any historical perspective. Things are awful because of a terrorist attack that killed 100? 100 years ago Europe had plunged into World War 1, a travesty that killed millions. A news anchor just called the Dallas tragedy a modern 9/11. It's not. Not even close. Bad things happening is not incompatible with life getting better, even if the tone and urgency of news suggests it is.

It's not that these events that get reported on are not tragedies. They just aren't your tragedy. If we're obligated to feel sadness every time something tragic happens within 10,000 miles, where is the tragedy even in death? Ending lives that experience tragedy every day is actually a relief.

But what if just once a month for a week we were forced to meditate and report on only our own lives and what little problems most of us have most of the time? Or even more profitably, focused on the problems of the people around us, the problems we could know about first-hand rather through the somber voice of a stoic reporter? Those tragedies we can do something about and rather than make us feel helpless we'd feel responsible, able to help. And we would not only realize that our own lives were better than we were led to believe but would actually be more able to make other lives better.

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