A little over a year ago, I met some friends for lunch.
They looked at me with long faces. “We’ve been glued to the TV with these hearings,” said my friend Bonnie. “Can you believe it?”
I looked at her, smiling a patient smile.
“Oh, right, you’re in your no-news bubble,” she said, and turned to her husband. “That’s why she’s so happy.”
Yes, I’m in my bubble, and I’m happy.
Why I stopped watching
My only news comes from reading the New York Times summary I get by email: headlines of the top few stories in each category and a two-sentence summary of each one. No clicking through to read more, unless it is important and relevant beyond the immediate news cycle. A jet mysteriously downed? Nope. Another school shooting? Please, no; I’m still mourning Columbine. Scientific discoveries or reports? You bet. Madonna’s contributions to our culture? Click!
I haven’t always been this way. Feeling that a good citizen should keep informed, I tried for years to stay tuned, but it hurt to watch and read. I’m a high-sensitivity person, designed like the earliest humans to be exquisitely attuned to the world around me. This sensitivity wasn’t designed for today and the throbbing live news feed that blasts us 24×7 with tragedies, injustices, violence, corruption, and conflicts gleaned from countries all over the world.
I tuned out of the news when my son was born in 1996. First I stopped because I had no time for anything but him for weeks on end. When I emerged from my world of infant chuckles and eye-dances to catch up on the news, I was body-slammed by war in Bosnia, thousands and men and boys being slaughtered by their former neighbors, women and girls systematically raped in a campaign of terror, and far too much more.
I stopped for good then. I couldn’t take it any longer—and more importantly, I didn’t see why I should. Why subject myself to images that haunt me, darkening my world with losses that are not mine and problems I cannot solve? I asked myself whether that knowledge helped me, and whether forcing myself to watch all this did the world any good, and the most honest answer I could come up with was “no.”
Checking out wasn’t an option
But while it felt right to protect myself, it would feel wrong to ignore the suffering of others. I needed to come up with a compromise.
That’s when I decided to make a deal with myself and the world. In exchange for a time-out from the news, I solemnly promised to do at least one thing a week that has some impact on the issues that concern me most, even—especially!—if the action is outside my comfort zone.
I stopped listening and started doing.
My first project was to train as a CASA, a court-appointed special advocate for children. After my five-day training I was assigned a 16-year-old who’d been a runaway and was now in foster care. I showed up for her, helped her negotiate the juvenile court system, and just might have made a difference. After she aged out of foster care, I took on other projects.
These days I spend hours each month making phone calls for Everytown for Gun Safety. I attend their marches across the Golden Gate Bridge and their lobby days in Sacramento. I spend many hours a week volunteering for a nonprofit focused on climate change. I signed up to volunteer for Americans of Conscience Checklist, so each week I post the checklist and take a few of the recommended actions.
Two hard-earned pieces of advice
Yes, I’m happy with my no-news deal, and you can be too. Next time the news threatens to swamp you with despair and helplessness, step away. Don’t get caught up in twitter storms or the echo chamber of other indignant people.
Take the first step: stop listening. Right away, you’ll feel less raw.
Now you’re ready for the second part of the deal: start doing. You’ll have saved yourself hours each week that you used to spend on the news, but now instead of spending that time in grief and anxiety, turn your time and emotional energy to (as Gandhi put it) being the change that you wish to see in the world. Look around your community and find something to do that makes the world a kinder place.
Be the change—and you’ll be happier, too.
Anne-Christine Strugnell is our AoCC Facebook Princess who manages our Facebook account and is in her third year as a member of our social media team. This post is part of a series of inspiring articles from the people behind AoCC to encourage you to persevere.