It used to be that our exposure to the horrible things in the world was limited to the paper in the morning and Uncle Walter’s broadcast in the evening. Now that we’ve got 24-hour news channels, though, we’re inundated. Awful things are happening all the time and the whole universe is eager to tell us. It’s coming from our speakers, our car radio, even social media. There’s fear and terror and horror everywhere, and there’s no escape.
It kinda reminds me of elementary school during the Cold War. We’d have disaster drills where the siren would sound and we’d all have to dive under our desks — as though that would help even a little in the event of a nuclear war. And we all now live with that same vague sense of existential dread that was with us at the worst of the nuclear scare.
The worst part of it all is that, once again, we’re completely helpless. Our only outlet is at election season every couple of years, where we can make decisions on our new leaders — who, we have to trust, are sane and cool-headed and responsible enough to do the right thing, and to keep us all safe. (Never mind that those two goals contradict.)
After all, what can we do? We’re afraid of terrorism, but there’s no use in all of us going around armed to the teeth; a car will backfire and we’ll all get slaughtered in a friendly fire incident. We’re afraid of shootings, but we likewise can’t ban all the guns and be safe. (The why of that is another discussion.) We hear about wildfires and Standing Rock, but we’re not firemen and we’re not really sure about the right and wrong of oil pipelines, and North Dakota is a long way from here.
I can’t fix all of these for you, but I’ve got some great advice. Guaranteed to help. Are you ready?
Turn Off The News
The idea of a 24-hour news station is a pretty glorious one on paper. What could be better than an informed population, especially around election season? In practice, it turns out that most of what’s broadcast is filler, designed to occupy the airwaves and entertain the masses (and sell advertising, don’t forget) until the next crisis pops up. And, somehow, this doesn’t educate the voting public so much that we end up choosing between two wonderful candidates come November; it’s still always between Bad and Worse.
And getting your news from social media is, let’s face it, completely insane. I mean, really: How many stories did you click on before you got to mine? And this is the first one that talked sense, I bet.
NPR recently ran a story about a guy that runs clickbait mills for the advertising money. It’s all fiction; he starts rumors and generates ad revenue from the posts and reposts. The more outlandish the lie, the better he does. He’s lying to conservatives, but if you think there’s none of that on the other side, you haven’t been reading Slate or the HuffPost lately.
So turn it off; turn it all off. Stop watching CNN, and stay away from the clickbait sites on Facebook. (Except mine, of course; I talk sense. It’s those other guys that are lying to you.) You’ll be amazed by how much your life will improve.
Fix The Problem
The trouble with avoiding the news entirely, of course, is that if you don’t know in advance that there’ll be protests and riots in DC on Inauguration Day, you’ll accidentally end up in the middle of a nasty mess while on your way to the Piggly Wiggly. Plus, you’ll miss out on things that are happening that you actually can do something about. Here’s some examples:
Every winter, there’s always the big story on homelessness. The first frost comes and the news is suddenly telling us about the veteran who’s living in a cardboard box. It’s important to know about him, but the thing about the news is, he won’t still be newsworthy in the middle of February. He’ll still be homeless and freezing, but he won’t get reported on.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go out of your way to help. There are effective charities that do good work; give them money or, if you really care, volunteer. (Let them figure out how, though; canned goods and spare clothing and blankets are nice and all, but it’s more efficient if you let them buy the things on your behalf. They can get bulk discounts and matching grants. Plus, most shelters have far too many volunteers on Thanksgiving and none at all after mid-January.) My own favorite is Covenant House, but there’s also the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul. (I don’t happen to know the name of any atheist charities, but if someone shares one I’ll post it.)
There’s also the wildfires in Tennessee; there’s lots of people who’ve lost their homes, and the whole region, which makes most of its money from tourism, has been devastated. Local lady Dolly Parton is giving back to the community, though, and she’s set up a fund where you can help out too. She’s got a long and very trustworthy history with charity, so I’m quite sure you can trust her.
I also mentioned the Standing Rock protests. Now, my sympathies are with the protestors, but to tell the truth… I’ve been looking into this for weeks, and I’ve got no clue about the right and wrong of this pipeline, its location, the safety, or any of that. All I know is, there’s a bunch of people camping out in freezing weather because they feel that strongly about it, and local law enforcement has gotten pretty brutal. And really, that’s all I need to know.
The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council is at the core of the protest. They’re looking for supplies and people to drive them in, and they’re looking for money. This is one place where I’d actually say: send supplies. A financial donation will assist with the protest — and really, what do you know about their cause? If you want to stop fracking, stop using oil. But if you want to help people who are in the freezing cold, send food and cold-weather gear.
If you do know and care about their cause, mind, there are other possibilities: They’ve got a legal fund, for example. But be cautious; there’s already a lot of scam artists who are set up to take advantage of you over this and other causes, and their websites look just as smooth and professional as any other.
The Bottom Line
Yes, the world is full of awful things. There’s a civil war in Syria and a drug war in Mexico, and there’s nothing at all we can do to stop them. There’s plague and terror and murder and fraud, and we’re all lucky if we can just get to work and pay the rent.
But don’t obsess. It won’t help anyone, and it’ll just speed up your first heart attack, and nobody needs that.
Instead, do what you can. Volunteer, or donate, or proclaim worthy causes. Heck, if you like what I’ve been saying, one thing you can do to help is share this post; the links are useful to everyone, and it won’t take much time.
And this above all: Every day, when you go out your front door, try to do a little bit to make your part of the world a slightly better place. It doesn’t have to be much: Smile a little more, maybe don’t flip off the guy that cuts you off at the off-ramp. Pick up some garbage from the sidewalk and throw it in a trash bin. Be kind if you get a chance. (You can also do this at home. It doesn’t hurt, honest.)
Remember: You live here too. Do your part. You owe it to yourself.