Tag News

Everything Is Not Terrible

The feeling that everything is terrible is a familiar one to news followers everywhere. I question my own news consumption from time to time. I tell myself that I want to keep informed, but most of the time my relationship to the news is like my relationship to the TV show Game of Thrones. I like keeping up, guessing what will happen and getting morbidly excited the rare with dark twists.


I like this article:
How to Stay Happy When the News is Bad. It moves from the classic advice on news overload (stop reading the news) through the optimist viewpoint (the world is better now than ever before) to something more subtle all together.

Stop Reading

“Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months,” Rolf Dobelli, author of The Art Of Thinking Clearly, “name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you.”

Good point, but the news feels relevant to people who are connected to many places in the world or who have friends living in some of the places that pop up in the headlines. Reading news becomes a way to stay connected to those people, to keep up with their reality, even if it’s in a superficial way, even if it’s not truely relevant. It feels important.

Look on the Bright Side

We know, rationally, that people in every era have always believed that theirs was the worst in history – and that, by many yardsticks, things are better than ever. Yet the conviction that Everything Is Terrible remains. And now it is joined by the conviction that everything is uncertain, too, fuelling an escalating anxiety about the future.

I find myself saying this kind of thing all the time. I’m safe, you’re safe. We’re all better off now than ever before, but still just as worried because there is a baseline of pain and anxiety that every generation feels. If we judge the circumstance as really bad, then, wow, I can’t believe you made it through all that with a smile on your face. Or if we think the circumstance is comfortable (Millennials) we think, stop complaining so much and get to work. But through history everybody has felt about the same.

“Stability isn’t news” is the argument here. Things are OK but shocking things happen pretty regularly somewhere in the world and we’re reading about those things. Simultaneously expanding our personal circle of compassion and feeding into our worry.


The Solution?

“The answer is that life is really, really good. I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time that life is really, really good. I am full of rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness, dissatisfaction, and a thousand other feelings. We are really fucked. Life is still really good.”

Ten years ago I was in the doctor’s office getting a check-up before I left for college in New Zealand. Near the end of the visit my doctor asked if I had any questions or if anything was bothering me. I mentioned that my hips would hurt from time to time, a kind of stiff grinding feeling. I was thinking that maybe I would get some treatment, he’d have a closer look, find that there was some inter-muscular-boneitus failure of some kind. He asked me how often I exercised. “Never really,” I said. “Exercise, and it will go away,” he said. The oldest prescription in the book. Right next to eat better, sleep more.

There are no philosophical tricks to being able to beat the news blues. It’s a simple prescription. Something is bothering you? Do something about it. Make some effort, however small, toward building a better world. Volunteer, donate, write a letter to the Editor. Something that will activate you.

Because the news is not Game of Thrones. We have the option to play along and participate and that alone might be the answer to feeling overwhelmed. It might not fix the world or prevent the next Red Wedding but it’s something.

Suffering in Egypt

My summer in Montana is wrapping up. It has been beautiful. A summer punctuated by hot, pine-scented mornings hiking the loop behind my parent’s house, and big-sky nights that occasionally wink with the streak of a meteor or erupt into thunder, hail and lightning.

Heat and thunder also emanate from the stream of news from around the world: sexual/political scandals, secret  government spying programs and summertime violence across the globe. I’ve been trying to keep up with news of the protests in Brazil and Egypt. These protests show the fragility of the veil that separates the acceptable play of order and chaos in human society from the unbearably cruel and destructive influence of the same forces. Look how quickly the intention to show up and speak your piece can turn to deadly and brutal conflict.

Yesterday, an American photographer in Cairo posted a gallery of his very recent photos to Reddit.

I started taking pictures as soon as I arrived, being the only white guy I got a few strange looks, and some pretty angry faces. A few threatening protestors told me I couldn’t take pictures and to leave immediately. A group of 15 or so protestors started to gather around me and a bunch of angry Arabic flew back and forth. So ya… maybe not the best idea?

Finally someone started speaking English to me! After explaining to the crowd I was there to record and tell they’re story, they welcomed me into their family. They brought me a translator, water, anything I needed.

The photos in the gallery he posted are raw and unnerving, so watch out. They show a much more vivid side of the conflict than I’ve seen elsewhere on the news. The expression of anguish in this particular photograph stood out to me immediately. I recognized his twisted, pained expression from two Rodin sculptures on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. (Here’s a post about my visit there in 2011.)

He was asked a question about the smells he encountered while taking these photographs by Reddit user mineown2020:

Absolutely serious question: What does it smell like in these photos?

His response:

Burning. Tear gas and burning rubber. The hospital didn’t smell to bad, they brought a guy in with a headshot wound, and after a few hours I would get a really eery terrible whiff of decay whenever I went by him. I don’t know if it was in my mind or real.

Worst than the smell was walking around in the mosque (have to take shoes off) with blood sticking to your feet. After a few hours when the floor got bad, everyone was like fuck it we puttin dem shoes on!