I have been abstaining from watching any news coverage (except as related to college football — go Trojans!) for several months now. I don’t know if this is the right thing for everyone, but I find that my life is better this way. I worry less and am less angry.
I read once that there’s a problem with news in the modern world, which is that it makes you concerned with statewide, nationwide and even worldwide issues, in the same way that people used to concern themselves with neighborhood problems or village problems. In other words, at one time the widest exposure one had to news was to local news, and this was news that one would have had a natural and personal interest in: A neighbor who was harmed or suffering in some way would naturally call forth our concern and willingness to help in a direct and personal manner.
We might also hear news from neighboring villages through gossip from those who had gone visiting or had business there. That kind of news could hold some interest, and we might feel some obligation to be concerned and obliged to help, but less so than we would towards our immediate neighbors; on the assumption that the neighbors of that locale would be helping, and would request additional assistance from us if needed. (I’m more or less making up these scenarios in an effort to convey the idea of the article I read, of which I can no longer identify the author or title.)
More rarely we might hear news of more distant towns or villages, since the more distant the location, the more seldom would we encounter travelers from that area; and even less would we feel any obligation to feel personally concerned or obliged to help.
But in our time, it seems like we hear news from more distant locations faster than local news. When you turn on the TV or radio, or go on the internet, it’s world or national news that immediately grabs your attention, whether political news or some major catastrophe in a distant state or nation; whereas you must go hunting for news that specifically relates to your own town or neighborhood (unless some major news, such as a natural or manmade disaster, happens to be occurring where you are).
As a result, we may feel obliged to help people we’ve neither met nor previously heard of, on almost a daily basis — at least the more sensitive or scrupulous among us. A hurricane in Louisiana, a mass shooting in Virginia, a proposed law in Washington, not to mention a famine in Africa or a tidal wave in Japan, all make calls upon us to help, to send money, to pray, to sign a petition or write our congressman — to be concerned. Have you no sympathy for the less fortunate? Are you not praying for this or that group of people, for the President, for our troops, for the Pope? Won’t you send money? After all, for the price of a cup of coffee …
(As an illustration, while writing this I received an email with the subject line, “ALERT: Save California!!” Alas, I’m only a man ….)
But we’re not equipped to deal with this level of disaster, all the time. In the old days our actual neighbors might have required our help once in a while — once in a great while for major catastrophes or illnesses, but most of the time for routine tasks. Someone might be chronically ill or aged, so we might work a weekly visit into our schedule, taking turns with others to get the person’s cows milked, clothes washed, or what have you. But not every day a hurricane, an explosion, a mass killing, crying out for our sympathy and assistance. We might worry about local politics, like who would be on the town council and how that might affect when the new schoolhouse gets built. But we wouldn’t have been expected to deal mentally and emotionally with major, society-wide issues like systemic and institutional racism, the effect of Federal Reserve Board policy on interest rates on the national economy, foreign policy towards Russia and North Korea, and so forth.
The idea of a republic is to elect people whose job it is to handle these things for us, leaving us free to handle the day-to-day tasks of living our lives. If we must spend all our free time monitoring the issues to make sure our representatives are doing what we want, then aren’t we basically doing their job for them, figuring out what should be done and demanding that they do it?
But the point is that most of us were not made to process the massive amounts of information, and still less the massive doses of catastrophe and disaster, and political concerns with national and global implications, which present themselves to us daily via the mass media. We’re naturally equipped to deal with what concerns us locally: Our families primarily, and then our neighbors, with only an occasional and relatively vague awareness of people and events in distant places. Some people may feel a need or an interest in keeping up with national and worldwide affairs, and that may be fine as a hobby. But I think we should recognize that we only have so much intellectual and emotional capacity, and not try to take it all in and process it as if it concerns us personally. It doesn’t, because it can’t.
“LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” Ps. 131:1.