This article first appeared in my newsletter October 14, 2016. Click here to sign up to receive my online newsletter.
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A ton of hard data tells us that, however we might feel, in Canada, US, UK and Australia (countries where readers of this newsletter live), we have never in recorded history been safer or less vulnerable to violence or life-threatening illness. Our life expectancy is greater and risk of harm from physical danger is smaller than ever before.
So how come more people are feeling more threatened and more frightened? We read statistics about declining violence and do NOT feel safer. We wonder if the researchers took into account this or that example of how dangerous and violent our world has become. Why is that?
A recent Seth Godin blog post suggests one factor: cable news. He asks, “What if the fear and malaise and anger isn’t merely being reported by cable news… What if it’s being caused by cable news? What if ubiquitous video accompanied by frightening and freaked out talking heads is actually, finally, changing our culture? Which came first, the news or the news cycle? There’s always front page news because there’s always a front page.”
He says we seem to accept that what “the hegemony of bottom-feeding media” feeds us reflects the world we live in. In fact, it’s more likely that our perceptions of the world we live in reflects what mass media feeds us.
So what might drive cable news content?
Many years ago during training about how to get a message out to the public, I learned (based on credible statistics) that bad news attracts more attention than good news. If you can include tragedy and scandal in a story, possibly with some voyeurism into lives of people we’ve been taught to envy or revile, readership or viewership or listenership will increase.
If your purpose is to make money from advertising, the larger audience you can attract the more advertising revenue you can attract. To increase audience, the more outrageous the better.
So – on a day when infinitely more good things happen than bad, some media choose to emphasize the bad and scary things. In response, we feel scared and angry. That means there’s more fear and anger in the world, which creates more scary anger-triggering things to report. Action/reaction – both are causes and both are effects.
The bad-news media goals are pretty clear. Seth Godin says, “The real question is, what’s our goal? Every time we hook ourselves up to a device that shocks us into fear-based posture on a regular basis, we’re making a choice about the world and how we experience it.”
Mass media isn’t going away any time soon. Neither is the human tendency to be drawn in by bad news. So where does that leave us? With a conscious choice.
We can choose where we focus our attention. We can practice the techniques that help us catch ourselves – our emotions and thoughts and actions and words – and consciously choose where we focus our attention and what kind of presence we are in the world. When we catch ourselves reinforcing what we don’t want reinforced (and all of us do that, probably every day), we can reach for a more enlightened thought. That shifts our emotions which we express through our words and actions.
This is not about denial. It is about choosing how to respond to what we see, to the best of our ability moment to moment.
The next time you’re horrified or scared or outraged by what’s reported – and you notice your reaction – what else could you do? Here are some possibilities…
…Suspend judgment. Be open to the possibility that reports are inaccurate or incomplete.
…Take a moment to acknowledge your horror/fear/outrage and then take another moment to let that energy clear from your thoughts and emotions.
…Remember something that’s a happy contrast so you remember that all is not black.
…Choose to focus your attention on something that taps into your optimism and power.
…Remember that infinitely more positive things are going on than are ever reported.
…Imagine that you are inviting cosmic love to infuse dark situations.
…Think of something that makes you laugh.
…Think of something for which you feel grateful.
Oh yes. One other thing. You can always turn off the media.
There’s a start.
P.S. You can read the Seth Godin post here: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/10/cable-news.html
P.P.S. If this article resonated, you might appreciate the complimentary webcast, “Staying Sane” tomorrow (October 27). Register here to join us.