Over the past few years I have wavered between being a news junkie and abstaining from the news almost entirely. These years have been so eventful, literally filled with momentous events that are changing the world and changing the way we live. I want to keep up and not bury my head in the sand, but I do not want to be so wrapped up in it that I lose perspective or become despondent.
It really is quite possible to become so overwhelmed by the weight of the events of the world that we lose hope. Take our current situation where the top of the news revolves between the rise in pandemic infections overall and especially among children and those who have refused to be vaccinated, the end of the twenty year war in Afghanistan and the airlift of refugees, Hurricane Ida and the destruction it wrought in Louisiana and in the mid-Atlantic states and New England, the huge and uncontrolled fires in the west and northwest destroying forests and homes, and Haiti suffering in the aftermath of hurricans, earthquakes and a coup d’etat. If we get into the details of these stories or the less spectacular issues we could spend all day on the news. Sadly, the cable news channels in particular would like you to do that. So in addition to the hard news they add in talking heads, pundits and commentators whose job it is to make you feel even worse and more afraid about the state of the world. If we get sucked down that hole we are no longer news junkies we have become addicted not to the news but to fear. That addiction bolsters their ratings and gets them more advertisers.
What are we to do if we get caught up in this frenzy of fear mongering on which cable news lives and breathes? The first thing that came to my mind is a Bob Newhart skit from some years ago. It is perhaps the funniest six minutes of television I have ever seen. I commend it to you not as the answer to this addiction, but as a way of defusing it (Newhart skit).
Certainly stopping the activity is easier said than done. I know many people who first thing in the morning turn on the radio to the news channel, NPR, or one of the cable news stations. That device stays on all day filling their lives with the latest headlines, traffic reports (even though they are not on the roads), news of disasters far and wide, sports (even though they do not follow sports), and celebrity scandals. While they may not being pay full attention to it their ears and minds are being filled with things that make them anxious, disgusted, worried, and fearful. Think if instead the radio or TV were tuned in to Mozart, some pleasant music, or someone reading poems, or telling heartwarming stories, or simply nature sounds. Or perhaps even better, they were not turned on at all so that the sounds of nature or blessed silence were the only sounds they heard.
We have choices. For years I have kept my iPhone next to my bed at night. Initially it was so I would not miss an emergency call. In all that time I have received one call in the middle of the night that was a real emergency. But the problem is that the first thing in the morning I pick up the phone and check it. I have barely wiped the sleep from my eyes and I am seeing spam, sales pitches, news headlines, and many other things that could wait for me to at least gain full consciousness. Recently, I have been leaving the phone somewhere else. As I fully awaken, I say a prayer from Forward Movement called “For Today.”(morning prayers) I used to do this before I got an iPhone. It seems like a good habit to return to. For you there may be another answer to the news addiction. It may be looking out a window, hugging your beloved, walking the dog, looking at a painting, reading a poem, and any of a myriad of other possibilities. The news will wait. When you allow it to wait you may find that your fear and worries start to abate. The old saying is “we are what we eat.” That is true not only of food but of the other things we consume through our eyes, ears and other senses.
In the Gospel According to Matthew Jesus says, “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (6:37 NRSV) Worry and fear add nothing to our life, they only subtract. They preoccupy us with things that we have no control over. If we could control them we would do something more than worry. Instead of feeding our worries, let us strive for peace in ourselves and peace for others. As Jesus said later in Matthew “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (6:33 KJV) Do not seek out trouble and worry there is enough of that to go around without looking for it. Instead seek the Kingdom of God. In doing so we add to our lives the joy and goodness that only God offers.