The last two posts have covered some ways to avoid being harmed by the news. But sometimes I need to do more when a story starts really bothering me. Here are a few good questions to ask yourself when you are reeling from something you heard on the news.
1. Do they have the whole story yet? If you’ve ever been part of something that became a news story, you know that these stories evolve. They start out to be one thing – a child is floating in a homemade balloon- and become something else – the balloon came down and the child is missing- and then something else again – the child was hiding at home the whole time and the parents probably knew where he was. I know I wasted a whole morning worrying about that kid before it all unfolded. But I learned to hold a little optimism that it could all turn out better in the end.
2. Am I responsible to do something about this? There is only so much any one person can do. Even if I am being called to pour out my life to help with a particular problem, I can still only take on one at a time. It’s hard to know for sure that I am in a place that is greater than the minimum I need to do to be a good person, and less than the level that causes exhausted burn-out. But I do know that I cannot bring back all the girls stolen by Boko Haram. And I can’t settle the Syrian civil war. And I can’t house all the refugees from the latest disaster.
And if I try to carry the emotional weight of all of these stories, I will be too broken to help the people I can help. I cannot go deeply into thinking about and dwelling on and worrying about the things I am not responsible for, (or able to change) without harming my mental health. If possible, I will do something: say some prayers, write a letter, donate to a charity, change a habit. But then I try to remember that a few years ago (before the modern media) I would never even have known about this, and that I am only one small person.
3. Am I looking at enough angles of this story? For this, I turn to a wise man named Fred Rogers. Mr Rogers said that “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” If I am troubled by a story, often my faith will be restored by looking at how people are helping each other, or how heroically they are surviving and responding. The media seldom points in these directions, offering us instead the pornography of horror and loss.
For me, these thoughts cause a real reduction in anxiety.
Do you think that these perspective shifting questions might help you? Or are there others that you use?