What I Learned When I Stopped Paying Attention to the News
The idea seemed ludicrous for a person working in labor communications: stop paying attention to the news? How would I know all the current events necessary to stay up with our content? Stay abreast of the politics in order to properly do my job? Note the latest vote in Congress, the latest minority group under attack by the leader of the free world?
The problem was, somewhere along Donald Trump’s first year in office, my mental health began feeling challenged by the news cycle on a daily basis. It never stopped and all of it was appalling — all of it.
When I really took stock of it all, what was worth sharing and interpreting and what wasn’t, I realized I wasn’t being informed by the news much at all. I was more-so just shocked, upset, and distracted from anything good — even within my own life — all of the time.
Why did I need to know what this man was tweeting about in the middle of the night, or how John Legend had responded to it? The answer was I didn’t, and it seemed the only thing feeding the lunacy was people’s decision to care.
Each news story that surfaced preceded article after article dangling itself in front of my eyeballs from my computer to my iPhone to my TV screen; analyzing, suggesting, blaming, dissecting. It was exhausting, and I finally decided around mid-year 2018 to succumb to the mental cocoon I desperately craved. I wasn’t going to pay attention to it anymore.
Now, before you go diving into all my privilege as an actualized white girl in one of the more upper class counties in the United States — the luxury I have to put blinders on and block out all the bad stuff — hear me out.
I know I have societal advantages that other people in the world, even in my own country, can only dream of. I have never had to escape violence in the place I live, only to sit at the border of another nation terrified and wondering where my mother is, for instance.
I’m aware of my ability to approach someone on the subway free of intimidation — on theirs or my behalf — and ask for assistance.
I know I am among the least likely people to be profiled and shot at for simply existing on the sidewalk in certain neighborhoods.
I won’t be followed around in stores or stereotyped in public beyond someone trying to guess my Starbucks drink based on the color of my Ugg boots.
My birth-given privilege has afforded me a solid safety net of family I could fall on if I ever found myself in desperate times.
Our family has good health insurance and comfortably affords a gym membership and healthy food to eat.
We have two reliable vehicles to drive our kids to a safe school in, and can afford to buy a meal or two at a decent restaurant a few times a month.
My physical appearance is accepted by the unsaid standard of most cities and towns across America, helping me get by in diverse groups of immigrant and LGBT friends and colleagues, and hold my own drinking moonshine in the “boondocks.”
I know all of this as someone who has paid close attention to the 24 hour news cycle, hungry for awareness. As someone who contributes to the purpose of labor unions as part of her full-time job — who’s seen and heard horrible stories of injustice and felt guilty for enjoying much easier breaks. As someone who attended the Women’s March with people who’d been fighting harassment and marginalization for years. I read all there is to read about intersectionality in the wake, and where white women like me fit into all of this.
People are suffering out there and deserve to be represented. And while I want to be cognizant of them, the commentary within the daily news is just too loud to hear it at face value anymore. At some point, we pass the point of awareness with our talking screens and create a narrative and expectation that doesn’t reflect reality. We read stories into existence and then live by them. We decide not to visit those towns which appeared on TV last night. Not to interact with certain people because someone who looks like them did something unspeakable.
I’m not suggesting we don’t care, stand up for or mourn on behalf of others. Nor am I suggesting we live unaware and exposed to danger. What I’m suggesting is we collect our facts and turn it off short of losing sleep and rearranging our common sense.
Here are some things that changed for me when I stopped paying attention to the news:
1) I wasn’t angry anymore.
I have a lot to be thankful for in my immediate life and I was better able to appreciate it when I wasn’t investing emotionally in stories I had zero control over. I found it easier to laugh catching wind of one of our cartoon president’s tweet storms. I didn’t fret about things or people I couldn’t change anymore. I was happier.
2) I stopped overthinking my marriage and parenting.
I stopped seeing my kids as a boy and a girl, gendered animals I needed to intervene with to ensure they didn’t fall into old school stereotypes and social norms. I stopped worrying about the messages my husband and I were sending them with our everyday interactions. What we were communicating with the roles we decided to play in our partnership. Instead, I began parenting them individually for who they were and living as my true self — loving their Dad for who he is and confident that a happy mom was the thing they needed far more than an over-thinking one.
3) I was creative again.
When I stopped trying to brainstorm solutions to abstract problems I could never fix, stopped letting the generalized inefficiencies of the world squelch my own “privileged” concerns, I started seeing clear solutions to the inefficiencies I could solve in my own life. I was motivated to explore them and think outside the box for my own interests. I began fulfilling myself creatively again and looking for ways to contribute more passionately to the world around me.
4) I was productive again.
I am someone who is crippled by emotion. I have no bragging rights to compartmentalization as a skill — I cannot think if there are elephants in the room. Whether it’s sadness or anger or anxiety, I have to Google and stare at that nuisance emotion until it leaves before I can be useful again. When I decided to stop seeking elephants to obsess about, I started getting a whole lot more accomplished.
5) My purpose was clearer.
When I stopped reading the commentary of others to help me sort through my feelings, suddenly I could see myself a whole lot clearer. I was free to think my own thoughts and fulfill my own purpose.
It is a process, this learning how to ignore the news. I still question whether I should be giving more f*cks from time to time. If I’m not delivering enough hot emotion to problems I’ll never be able to solve for other people. If, perhaps, any extra caring has grown the potential to be caught like the flu by members of Congress who put themselves in positions which could make a difference.
But then I remember that my emotional paralysis in this world serves no one. It’s the equivalent of screaming at people on Facebook “your thoughts and prayers aren’t going to stop people from being shot at!” While that is correct, neither will those contentious retorts. (With all due respect, of course.)
My life is better this way, however selfish that comes across. I give myself better to the people I directly affect when I decide to let go of the ones I can’t touch at all. To my surprise, I actually found a greater sense of purpose by tuning out the news and believing Mother Teresa: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
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