Last week, a lone anti-Semitic gunman killed 11 people and injured 6 more in a Pittsburg synagogue. Days later, another shooting occurred in a Tallahassee yoga class. At the time of this writing, there have already been 297 mass shootings in 2018, or almost as many shootings as days in the year so far. Every day seems to bring more disaster. A 2017 Gallup Global Emotions poll showed the highest negative emotion rating since Gallup started the poll in 2005. In short, we’re more scared, angry and stressed out than we were a decade ago, when we were in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. I’m an Olympic-level optimist, but even I am starting to lose my faith in humanity.
So I do what I always do when I think the world is falling apart. I set down my phone. On average, we spend around 24 hours a week online. That’s one whole day of every week wasted in a scroll hole! We have convinced ourselves that it is our responsibility to know everything that is happening in the world the moment it is happening, but this is a myth.
Why are we doing this to ourselves? Our ceaseless monitoring of the state of the world is not benefitting the world, but it is making us sick. When we drown ourselves in bad news, it stresses us out. And our brains don’t know the difference between what’s life threatening or not. So we’re constantly expecting and at the ready for more catastrophes, leaving us burnt out and run down. Exhaustion is our new normal.
Online posts attempt to lure us in using shock and awe tactics; the rule for what you see first on news websites is “if it bleeds, it leads”. These media conglomerates are in direct competition with each other and they want us to turn up the volume or click through to their site. This is how they convince companies to advertise with them. They are in it to make money, not to keep you intellectually stimulated or globally connected.
The world can seem so full of hatred, injustice and despair. It’s tempting to just raise your white flag and face-plant in a bowl of pasta. And sometimes this is the best way to process; my mindfulness practice has helped me know when I personally need to unplug and power down. But there will always be more bad news.
Before you fall completely to pieces in the face of such hopelessness, here’s some good news. We’re naturally wired to be inspired. When we witness someone being selfless, it activates the vagus nerve, resulting in a release of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that stimulates feelings of love, calm and connection. But we have to actively look for good news if we want to maintain our faith in humanity. We’re not apt to find too much good in a digital world. It mostly exists in real life.
What I’m suggesting is that we all might breathe a bit deeper if we’d turn off the steady stream of bad news. Look up and look around to see good people doing good things everywhere. In the past few days, a stranger let me out at that weird intersection at Kroger. A student brought me some honey “just because”. My mailman drove my Amazon package down to my house so it wouldn’t sit out in the rain. A student I taught years ago sent me an encouraging email. A nice man held the door for me at the bookstore. My husband set the coffee so it would be ready for me the next morning. A girl at the middle school told me she liked my shoes. One of my students missed class because she was registering people to vote. I had a lovely talk about race with a stranger at the movie theatre. Several strangers told me how much they looked forward to my column each week. An old woman smiled at me at the post office.
None of these moments were especially newsworthy. But these are the headlines of my life. These are the headlines I choose.
Perhaps we could, in this moment, start a revolution of writing our own headlines. Having faith in humanity is a choice. How will you choose?