Stay Calm or Stay Informed?

As a newly minted adult, I’ve been introduced to the importance of staying informed. In one of my last classes of my college career (via Zoom–thanks, Corona), my professor encouraged all graduating seniors to stay informed on current events, and even recommended some reputable news outlets.

Prior to graduating, I was excited at the prospect of being a well read, cosmopolitan expert on all things “news.” I excitedly told my boyfriend that I would subscribe to a variety of papers, read each one throughout the week, and compare the narratives in similar stories. Essentially, I was excited to give myself homework.

However, once entering the “adult world,” I found this pastime to be overwhelming, though not for the reason you may think. It wasn’t that subscribing to news outlets was too expensive or that reading pages of articles in addition to my full-time job was “too much work,” but it was simply emotionally overwhelming.

Recently, I’ve listened to a few episodes of Bridget Phetasy’s Walk-ins Welcome podcast (which I highly recommend to anyone reading this). In a few episodes, Phetasy ponders why many social media users spout the phrase “I’m tired” while arguing on Twitter. While I completely understand her argument regarding the silliness of this statement coming from wannabe political pundits sitting at home eating Postmates, I understand the sentiment of the “I’m tired” phenomena.

I myself am tired. Keeping up with the news (political or otherwise) is emotionally draining, especially when that news comes through the current media landscape. As I write this, hundreds of articles are being written about the results of the presidential election and the potential social unrest that may cause. 2020 alone has produced thousands of horrendous articles covering every inch of each gut-wrenching story to come out of this year. It’s why so many people regard this (2020) as the worst year ever. Being reminded over and over and over again that terrible things happen in the world everyday is tiring.

At the same time, I am reminded of a scene from Benjamin Hoff’s brilliant introduction to Taoism, The Tao of Pooh (another highly recommended work). In this scene, Hoff is commenting on the sensationalized news covering crazy, terrifying stories, while Pooh looks out his window and sees a beautiful day. The point being, the news has a very skewed version of what the world is like (Matt Taibbi has written a great book on the subject, Hate Inc.) As the old adage goes, if it bleeds, it leads.

While the story of the world that the media paints may be a dark one, if readers just step away from the computer and looks outside, they will see the sun shining, neighbors strolling with their dogs, and trees swaying in the breeze. And if I think about how my life has personally been this year, it doesn’t align with the horrors printed by the Los Angeles Times or Wall Street Journal. I graduated Cum Laude from UCLA, I became closer to my boyfriend’s family, I’ve gone on many joy-inducing hikes, I’ve spent unprecedented amounts of time with my boyfriend, I moved into my very own apartment, I started a new job, I picked up new hobbies, I’ve had fun two v. two soccer matches, I’ve cooked delicious meals and treats, I’ve had amazing weekend getaways.

Is it worth it to overlook the beauty of the world just to stay informed? If there were a really important story, wouldn’t I learn about it eventually? Do I need to constantly subject myself to pangs of fear striking my core on a daily basis just to seem up to date on current events? Shouldn’t I focus more on the positive things I’ve directly experienced instead of ruminate constantly on the words of those who call themselves journalists?

I personally think the right way to go would be to limit news consumption to the bare minimum in order to mitigate the negative impacts that overconsumption of media has on emotional wellbeing. (And yes, of course that takes privilege to do, but that’s not the point right now…) I will likely adopt this method myself.

If you are concerned with the state of the world, consider contributing to the greater good of your neighborhood, instead of attempting to be a social media activist or wallowing in anxiety or helplessness about a crisis halfway around the world. You’ll actually be doing something productive and positive. Who knows–you might be happier than ever!

I promise you’ll be better off choosing to stay calm rather than informed. You can thank me later.

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