In my teens and early twenties I was a intermittent church goer, seeking something that I never discovered in the context of organised religion. It may be why I put worship on the back burner at every opportunity in favour of hedonism. After my first term at university I came home with big dark circles under my eyes and a complete lack of awareness of what had been going on nationally or internationally. I was too busy partying! However something that my Methodist minister said to me about this stuck. How I could possibly pray for the wider or take action to make it a better place if I didn’t know what was going on? From that time on, even after ‘backsliding’ from Christianity I have linked the idea of being well informed with good citizenship. So I used to avidly follow current affairs, reading online and traditional newspapers. My preferred listening was BBC Radio 4, a talk station with hourly news broadcasts and more in depth analysis of events spread throughout the day.
More recently though I have come to wonder what purpose this immersion served. So much repetition of what are, in the main, stories of greed, injustice, suffering and distress. Sure it’s good to be aware of the stuff where I could effect positive change but most news didn’t fit into that category. Most of the time the act of reading or listening didn’t stir me to take action. I began to question what this constant feed of bad news was doing to my psyche.
In researching this article I’ve come across the idea of a news detox, a complete withdrawal from the media. But I’m not sure that’s the answer. No, it was the act of constantly wallowing in doom and gloom that I was bothered about, not being informed per se. So I still read the news. Given that I have pinko leftie leanings the Guardian online is my preferred medium. I check traffic reports and weather too when it matters to me. After all being forewarned about meaningful event is good preparation. And of course, other people bring events to my attention.
So the stories from around the globe don’t pass me by but they don’t take up an inordinate amount of attention either. I’ve replaced my news diet. I listen to a lot more music now. Talk radio has been replaced by podcasts and YouTube streaming where I have greater control of what I listen to. Yes, others might think I’m less informed but I’d argue against that. I just focus on less mainstream aspects of our world most of the time. I’d also say that there are a lot less opportunities to pass judgement if you don’t dwell on the misdemeanours of others. After all that bloke in the white dress that I used to follow had something to say about this. ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’
The biggest realisation that this change in habits has given me is a more balanced view of the world. There is so much good that can go ignored if it is buried under that constant surge of negativity. At a micro level in my life, flowers sprout on verges, my friends make me laugh, a myriad of kindnesses are performed, my air is fresh and my food flavoursome. Yes problems crop up but if they are put in perspective they only take up a fraction of my time. That constant feed of bad news felt so overwhelming. Rather than being the impetus for action it all seemed too much. What can one individual possibly do? Yet, a wider viewpoint, acknowledging the positive as well as the negative, is empowering. I can see the wood for the trees and have a better idea of where I can devote my energy to make the world a better place. The results may be tiny individual steps in the right direction but if many of us re-focused who knows what good that we could achieve en masse.