Why the News is Not Reality

I went to see Daniel Goleman speak last month, just a few days after the terrorist attacks in Paris. I thought he had some really important things to say about the violence and cruelty in the news, which I'd like to share with you.

First, a thought experiment: Picture an old-fashioned balance scale. On one side, imagine all of the positive, loving things that human beings do each day -- the hard work, the playfulness, the helpfulness, the hugs, all the little gifts that we give and receive, often without even thinking. On the other side, imagine all of the "bad" stuff -- the hurt, the negativity, the selfishness, the meanness.

Which side would be heavier?

Goleman said there wouldn't even be a competition.  The love would so outweigh the negativity that it would tip the scale right over.

So why don't we hear about all of those positive, loving things when we turn on the news? People doing their jobs responsibly and ethically, looking out for one another, learning, having fun, being creative... These things are happening all the time, all around us. In other words: They are not news. Shootings, accidents, scandals, abductions -- these things make the news because they are exceptions to the norm. But our brains have a hard time remembering that. 

Goleman reminded us that our brains were not designed to handle danger and destruction 24/7. They were designed to mostly be calm and peaceful, with the occasional burst of fear and adrenaline to help us escape saber-toothed tigers. No wonder it is so easy to become anxious, overwhelmed, and even paralyzed, when we can easily access -- in graphic detail -- the pain and suffering of the entire world. Whether it's happening "out there" or in our own lives doesn't particularly matter; as empathic, connected creatures, other people's pain registers as our own. 

About three years ago I basically stopped listening to the news because I recognized that it made me depressed and angry. The choice felt good for my mental health, but it also made me slightly uncomfortable: If I don't know what's happening in the world, am I an ignorant, irresponsible citizen? If I'm not interested in hearing coverage of school shootings or natural disasters, does it mean I don't care?

Listening to Daniel Goleman, I realized that neither of those things are true. In fact, they are the opposite of truth. The truth is, I care a lot about what's happening in the world, but if I allow myself to get sidetracked reacting to all the fear and anger that's out there, I can't do anything to make it better. 

What about you? How do you relate to the news? Does it motivate you?  Does it drag you down? How do you make it work for you? It's an active question for me, and I would love to hear your perspective.