Putting it in Perspective An Argument for Sanity in the Face of Today’s News
Glancing through news headlines on any given day is enough to get one’s daily dose of the absurd, the confusing, and the terrifying. What is happening in Hong Kong? Which refugee crisis is this article referring to? How are Brexit negotiations still going on? Is there a new scandal emerging from the White House? Besides, many articles are published when conflicts are still developing, leaving the reader in suspense and wondering what will happen next. A news story is not supposed to make its reader feel like they are reading a thriller novel, and yet the actions of individuals, organizations, countries, and companies reported in the news often can remind its readers of just that.
A 2018 poll by the Pew Research Center found that seven out of ten adults in the U.S. feel overwhelmed by the news. The results of that poll are hardly surprising when the details are considered. It was conducted from late February to early March of that year, during which the headlines were dominated by news of the Parkland shooting and its aftermath, the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar, an earthquake in Papa New Guinea, and the Winter Olympics.
Feeling overwhelmed by the news has itself become such an issue that it is now considered newsworthy. News organizations themselves have began publishing articles with solutions for how to get over this news-induced funk. Reading less news is the main solution suggested, but dialing down is easier said than done. In theory it seems like a reasonable solution, but in practice it is nearly impossible. News is no longer limited to the morning papers and six o’clock news, it can be found everywhere, on television, social media, and as a topic of conversation in social settings with friends or strangers. And while avoiding the news may be beneficial to one’s mental health, there are other consequences as well. Shunning the news leaves you uninformed, and with conflicts and crises being reported on as they develop, not keeping up will leave you behind on what is going on in the world. News organizations serve the purpose of holding organizations and individuals accountable for their actions, as well as bringing attention to conflicts around the world that would otherwise stay hidden. Choosing to hide from the news may stop you from feeling overwhelmed, but with this issue new habits are not necessary, a new mindset is.
The world has always been a troubled place. We are not experiencing a rise in conflicts, we are experiencing a rise in connectivity. In today’s modern world, we can learn about what is happening on the other side of the world with incredible speed. We can read about every step of a crisis as it plays out, keeping it in our minds much longer than it would be if there had been less news available on it. Besides that, there are news organizations on every continent bringing out content 24/7, and anyone present during a conflict or disaster can share on the ground news through social media and make it available to everyone.
Forget for a moment that you are living in the year 2019, and remember that you are living in a moment in history.
With the dusty 10-year-old textbooks associations with the word history, it is easy to forget we are living in it right now. Our present is the future’s past. Everything that happens today will one day be looked on as past history. Someone was once living through World War II, learning of what was happening in the war by living through it, one day after another. We are not living in the midst of a world war, but we are living during a time where communications technology has improved to the point that we have the ability to hear about every instance of violence, corruption, disaster, injustice, and tragedy that happens in the world. It only feels like a lot now because today we can hear the full spectrum of conflicts and crises that are afflicting the world.
Take for example the 1840s and 1850s. In the United States, over two million people lived in slavery, and Mexico lost nearly half of their territory to the United States in the Mexican American War. Across the Atlantic, revolutions against monarchies flared up in Italy, France, Germany, Sicily, and the Austrian Empire and the Irish Potato Famine caused a mass diaspora of the Irish across the Atlantic and to Europe. In Asia, a mutiny against the British broke out in India, China was still reeling from the embarrassment of the first Opium War, the first Anglo-Afghan war between Britain and the Emirate of Afghanistan began and ended in a three year period, and the isolationist empire of Japan was forced to open its doors to trade with the growing power that was the United States.
That decade was full of news, but the headlines did not advertise all of it. Perhaps times seemed simpler, but they were not. The average American in the 1840s or 1850s would not have heard about what was going on in China, Japan, or Europe, but that does not mean it was not happening.
Perspective is all you need the next time you look at the day’s headlines. Yes, there are conflicts and issues in the world, and it may feel like every day things are getting worse, but take a step back, and think about the timeline of human history. This year is just a small tick on it, and today’s news stories are an even smaller mark 1/365th the size of this year’s tick. The world has always had its conflicts, but instead of thinking about how there seems to be no end to them, think instead of how fortunate you are to be an informed citizen, with the ability to hear about what is going on all over the world. That person tuning into radio broadcasts and the newspaper during World War II did not have that opportunity, and neither did any average American in the 1840s or 1850s.