I don’t watch the news.
I do read the Sunday papers occasionally and listen to the Today Show on Radio 4 briefly sometimes in the mornings. But I do not watch the news. Ever.
When I tell people this, I am usually met with a strong emotional response. Some people accuse me of being ‘out of touch’, ‘ill informed’ and ‘naive’. They strongly argue that as an adult who works and who is responsible for two children, I should know about the situation in Saudi Arabia and North Korea because there are potential conflicts brewing that I should know about. People also argue that I should know more about Brexit, the deal or no deal game that is playing out behind closed doors and that I should have an opinion on what Boris Johnson and Priti Patel should and shouldn’t be commenting on or talking to. There is much righteous indignation at my refusal to end my day with a dose of ‘reality’.
Here’s why I refuse.
First of all, there is nothing I can do about Saudi, or North Korea or Boris or Trump or even Kate and William. Not a thing. I am a pragmatist, and activist. If there is something going on that I can make a difference to then I will engage. Most of my work is about making people’s lives better and I support local enterprises and events. When a friend needs help, or a friend’s friend could do with a bit of something I can give, then I will usually give it, because central to my values is to make a positive difference in the world. So, if I thought that watching Trump’s tweet’s read out on prime-time TV would make the world a better place, then I would do it. But I don’t.
Secondly, the news, is of course, partial. If you watch CNN or Al Jazeera the story is different. It is far from ‘The Truth’ as we saw with the war in Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Brexit promise of 350m and week for the NHS.
Thirdly, as well as the various political and financial biases, there is a bias towards, fear and sadness and tragedy with the odd ‘feel good’ story woven in to lighten the gloom. For me, this is a bit like hanging out with Eeyore all the time. If you listened to Eeyore tell about the picnics in the Hundred Acre Wood, they would sound dismal, and yet Tigger would tell you a much bouncier story, Kanga a more caring story, Pooh a more simple and reflective story and Wise would tell you a wise story. Which is why the Pooh stories are so eternal; there are many perspectives. Not so our news. Where are the love stories, the recovery stories, the sharing stories, the connecting stories? Where are the stories of every day courage in war zones, of the people who act peaceably when the world is ablaze. Where are the stories of people who lead with kindness and compassion? It’s not that those stories are not out there, it’s just that the world’s media doesn’t want to look at them.
And I ask myself why this is and conclude that it serves the status quo to keep us fearful, to make us hate ‘them’, to make us critical, and mean and ‘looking after our own’ to the detriment of others. We have been brainwashed into thinking that knowing about danger and tragedy can somehow inoculate us from it; that if we know there is a war brewing, then somehow this keeps us safer. Which of course it doesn’t. It is an illusion based on our need to control things which are outside of our control.
The images in the news scare people, disturb people worry them. I listen to people worry about Saudi, about Korea, about Trump and they can’t sleep, and they feel angry, and they invest a lot of time thinking about how wrong or bad or stupid or frightening it all is. What a waste of energy.
If the world is going to be atomised by someone who the capacity to do so, there is nothing I can do personally to stop that. But wouldn’t it be a waste of my time until that point, if I spent it worrying? Worry about things that might happen, means that our focus is on the future and on fear, which means we miss right now.
Here and now
And right now is the bit we can control. Right here and now is where we can make a difference.
Right now is where there is a neighbour who could do with a cup of tea and a chat. Right now is a bit of litter in the road, which you didn’t drop, but which you pick up because this is your world too and you want to make a difference. Right now is even picking up someone else’s dog mess rather than just moaning about it. Right now is getting to know your neighbours and colleagues even if they are from a different class, race or religion from you. Right now is having fun with your kids so they grow up to feeling loved and loving and secure in the world and therefore less likely to want to go around causing harm.
Right now is doing and good job and recognising and appreciating when other people do a good job too. Right now is knowing how lucky we are to have a home, with a TV, with food and shelter and the safety in which to watch it. Right now is appreciating free health care and free education for girls as well we as boys. Right now is knowing that we have a welfare state which is far from perfect, but which many people in the world are literally dying because they don’t have access to it.
Right now is taking action; doing voluntary work, writing letters of support, investing your resources in people and concerns which have meaning for you. Right now is seizing opportunities to make a positive contribution in your every day life.
Right here and now is the only place we can be and it is here that we can make a positive contribution, which surely is what will ultimately make a difference to the world.