There was a time when I was as transfixed by television news as the next person. During the first Gulf War, September 11, Princess Diana’s death, I spent hours watching TV from my couch, or surfing the news websites for the latest developments.
Being connected that way felt vital, urgent, and in a way, as if I were doing my duty by the victims. I thought my actions honored them.
With time I came to see my vigil in a different light. And so, in the spirit of offering comfort to my American friends who are coping with the tragic events in Arizona, I have some suggestions:
1. Understand the difference between a feeling of urgency and a true emergency
- We are hard-wired to face threats with action and
- The sheer quantity and detail of news these days can trick us into feeling present at the scene of an unspooling catastrophe.
These two facts push our caveman buttons. We reach for our spears when the “enemy” may be hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.
Stop and think: are you, your loved ones or community in imminent danger? If they are, take appropriate action. If not, dial back the emotion. Take deep breaths. Notice your surroundings.
2. Separate venting from information
Much of what passes for reporting these days has the same level of intellectual rigor as speculation and gossip. Doubt me? Then note the number of retracted statements on any given news story.
In part this is to fuel the voracious media machine, but reporters are people, too. Some are physically on site and unable to escape the news stream. In essence, they are vicariously traumatized through professional obligations.
If you had a parent who was insensible and required an operation, which kind of physician would you prefer to give you informed consent? One in the grip of powerful emotion, or one committed to patient care but more intellectual? If the latter, mute your screen and notice the body language of the newscasters. Where do they fall on this spectrum?
3. Because you’ll need quality information to make decisions, consider:
- Turning to print media over radio and television. The basics will be there, but without the emotion-provoking images and sounds.
- Turning to another country’s media, especially if publicly funded. (eg. CBC, NPR, BBC).
- A country which does not bear the same psychic wounds as that of its victims will have a better chance of news objectivity.
- You may find perspective in seeing the world gripped by other events. Some might even constitute a more personal threat than the ones getting the most airplay.
4. Practice good self-care:
Set limits on how much time you’ll invest in the news.
Notice what you’re doing to take care of your own physical/mental/spiritual and social wellbeing. Watch that you don’t numb the pain with alcohol, drugs, TV, or other self-destructive means. If there is a real threat, you need to be in good shape, not deconditioned from stress.
5. Reach for the highest courage/highest consideration response
Avoid blaming or shaming. You’ll have to live with your friends, neighbors and community long-term. In a news cycle that pushes the win-lose paradigm, be particularly careful to search out win-win thoughts. Be diligent in searching for hope, and stay silent until you are willing to listen. Your community deserves the best of your leadership skills.
Now, those are my recommendations for coping, but my list is by no means complete. What would you add? Are you getting better at filtering what’s essential from sensational? If so, what are your techniques?
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