No news is good news
A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a couple of colleagues. We got to talking about some current news stories. Throughout my career I have had the privilege of working with a very diverse group of people: people of different nationalities, different specialities, different educational backgrounds, different social and economic backgrounds, different sexual orientations, different gender identities, different religions. Unsurprisingly, my colleagues and I all had different persepctives on the news. We didn’t disagree with each other, but we learned from each other — by which I mean I learned from them, and I hope they learned from me.
I have always known about media bias. Even if a news report contains “just the facts”, the amount of context that the report contains can change the readers understanding of those facts. I have also been concerned about the amount of news that I passively consume. With 24 hour news programmes and frequently-updated news websites, it is possible to spend all day consuming news without trying.
I’ve been thinking about the effect that bad news has on me. Bad news makes me angry. Bad news makes me upset. Bad news makes me afraid. Bad news creates and feeds every form of negative emotion.
Negative emotion isn’t always a negative thing. Negative emotion can motivate you to go out and make the world a better place. I felt negative emotion around Iris Robinson’s comments on homosexuality, and I felt negative emotion when I read Pierre Seel‘s autobiography. In both cases, that negative emotion motivated me to go out and make the world a better place. Both of those things motivated me to join the Belfast Pride committee.
When you can’t do anything good with negative emotion, it becomes a wholly negative thing. There is literally nothing I can do about the overwhelming majority of events in most parts of the world.
I also can’t fact-check the vast amount of news out there. I can’t consult multiple sources about the same event, and I can’t spend hours learning about the culture and history surrounding an event. This is partly because fact-checking and learning take a huge amount of time, and partly because there is simply so much news.
So, I realised that the news is just a source of negative emotion that for me, right now, has no benefits.
Just after that lunch with my colleagues, I was suddenly extremely busy with a number of things. No one of them was huge, but there were a lot of them. I stopped reading the news because I was simply too busy. Suddenly, this source of negative emotion was just gone. I found myself a happier person.
You might think that I was living in a happy bubble, ignoring the bad things in the world, and trusting someone else to fix them. That is not the case. I can’t do anything about the war in Ukraine, or the many refugee crises in the world, but I can provide pastoral support for LGBT Christadelphians, including people who are suicidal. Without being burdened by those things I can’t fix, I was able to make progress in the things I can fix.
Facebook also fell by the wayside, to a great extent. I was too busy to look at Facebook every day, and as a result, I no longer recieved negative emotion from Facebook. Again, I found myself a happier person.
So, I made the decision. I am going to avoid the news as much as I can, and I am going to avoid Facebook as much as I can. I don’t know how long this will last, but I will see.
I have spent a lot of my life studying the Apostle Paul’s letters in the New Testament. Many of them, such as Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 could be considered to be “bad news”. They have certainly been used to generate nagative emotions in me (which is what motivated me to study them). However, my newfound attitude to news (and Facebook) is one that can be found in Paul’s letters, specifically in Philipians 4:8:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Philipians 4:8, NIV
For as long as I can, I will be thinking about whatver is noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, and that will mean avoiding the news. I will see how it goes!