The News: Use It, or Refuse It?

Think about your exposure to the news of the day—TV, newspapers, websites, radio, gossip and hearsay. What is it doing for you, or perhaps, TO you?

Just as with the food and medicine we take in, we need to examine the nutritional value and side effects of the news we get. To live the good life, we have to set healthy boundaries for ourselves, to guide what news we put into ourselves. So what kinds of filters do you use for the news?

Nutritional value: we all need to take in enough news to understand what is happening, why, what’s good and bad for the world, and what can be done to promote the good and defeat the bad.

I like to get my news by flipping through Time and Newsweek, and scanning the headlines and articles of newspapers, in hand or online. I think about what happens until I can answer the questions in the previous paragraph. Then I’ve made my peace with it, and I move on. No worries, no rehashing of bad news, no horrifying TV images. Those are my boundaries, my news filters.

Toxic side effects. Producers of news reports know how to hook us with excitement. They design their news reports to titillate us, arousing our pleasures and desires. Some of the desire and pleasure is innocent enough, like humor and gratitude, which flavor a little bit of the news. That’s good.

But to protect ourselves from psychological infection, we all need to ask ourselves with each news story we take in: What is this arousing in me? What will this do for my confidence and contentment, for my blood pressure? The news that doesn’t arouse laughter or gratitude usually arouses an attitude of arrogance: "I’m better than these other people. We should just rid of the bad guys, the foreign element, the criminals and we’d be fine."

We like to think nothing is wrong with us. Compared to the villains on the news, we feel like innocent victims, our vain virtues forever being vexed by their villainous vices.

To avoid this self-deceit, a good boundary is to realize that under their circumstances of genetics, childhood trauma and neglect, poverty, and poor role models, education and peers, we might have done the same as the worst of the newsmakers.

In addition to arrogance, beware if your news provokes envy, resentment, greed, laziness, lust, gluttony, or fear. (If the news you’re taking in doesn’t incite enough of this for you, the advertising that pays for it surely will.) These attitudes provoke behaviors that kill our bodies, bank accounts, and our relationships. So you may want to consider limiting or filtering out news that turns on these killer attitudes.

That last mindset of FEAR is clearly a favorite product of some politicians, radio personalities and news networks. I just prefer to experience faith (confidence and peace) over fear (worry and stress).

To that end, one helpful boundary to use is "so what?" When you ask "what if" you experience a tornado, earthquake, war, disease, burglar, rapist, or something tragic happen to a loved one, you can ask yourself, "So what if . . .?", and start imagining and praying for something good that could come out of such a tragedy. For extra peace of mind, imagine how you could help to create that silver lining.

In short, take care what goes into your three news gates: your eye-gate (TV, newspapers, magazines, computer), your ear-gate (radio and hearsay), and your thought-gate. That last gate is where you decide what the news means, whether you’re going to worry about it, or whether you are going to bring something good out of it. That makes all the difference.

Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach you can reach at [email protected], (502) 633-2860.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt