A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down

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I know I’m not the only one who has gone (or attempted to go) on a self-imposed news media blackout since the election. Personally, I think it’s a great idea. This election pretty much swallowed us all whole, and we need to be reminded that there is a world going on around us that isn’t in print.

My typical news media consumption is (was?) as follows:

  • Facebook: all… freakin’… day
  • Twitter: Less often, but still all… freakin’… day.
  • The Express: When I get to the train station in the morning to go to work, I grab a copy of the free Washington Post newspaper, the Express, and read it on the train. It’s the perfect length to take me from departure to arrival.
  • MSN.com: It’s my homepage at work and I can’t help but read a few pieces from the headlines.
  • Apple News: I intermittently skim the headlines on my iPhone and if something is particularly interesting/breaking I read the article.
  • Comments sections on items 1 and 3 (danger! toxic! turn back!)

On item number 1, I’ll openly confess I failed miserably. For the rest, I started by beginning to refuse my daily Express. This in itself was difficult, because the workers who hand out the Express seem so excited to hand you your paper in the morning. Turning it down felt like a personal affront to them (though it was a bit easier when the worker said, “It’s not Hump Day; it’s Trump Day! Get your Express!”). From there on, I’d say I did pretty well avoiding all the other outlets.

But today, exactly one week from the election, I’ve terminated my media blackout, completely without any preexisting intent to do so. It ended exactly where it had started: the Express. This morning, I came down the stairs at the station and the worker said, “Good morning, young lady!” and handed me the paper. I could see a little tuft of Trump’s hair printed on the cover, so I knew immediately that receiving this particular edition completely quashed my intentions of “phasing” myself back in. It was like intending only to stick your feet in the shallow end at the pool party, when some big bully comes along and pushes you right into the deep end with your clothes still on.

I kept walking toward the train, trying to decide whether I’d toss (recycle!) the paper or read it. This was a particularly difficult decision, given the cover was a picture of Trump, Stephen Bannon, and the headline “Trump’s alt-right right-hand man.”

I read the paper. And there were things I already knew in there that made me angry. There were things I didn’t already know in there that made me angry. But there were also things I didn’t know in there that made me happy:

  • The three year project to rebuild the Capitol’s dome is finally complete. Bonus: during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was put under pressure to delay the construction until the end of the war, but he insisted construction proceed, in order to display faith in the Union.
  • High school students in Maryland organized their own protests and took to the streets and returned to class after. D.C. is planning the same for today. Wow! These are teenagers!
  • A bookstore in Wyoming requires customers to put away their laptops, phones, and tablets in the store, with a sign in the store saying, “Take a break! Live like it’s 1993, emails can wait.”
  • Oreo has come out with a chocolate bar!
  • Ed Sheeran and his mom have donated a bunch of his outfits and memorabilia to benefit East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices in the U.K.

To some, items 3 through 5 might seem trivial – “well that’s nice, but so what?” But what I noticed in reading this paper is that truly balancing my reading is what made the bad news (i.e.: Stephen Bannon) bearable. And being able to bear the bad news means that I was able to avoid being completely consumed by it.

I think one of the reasons I shunned the news after the election is because I was really afraid of being regularly consumed by the fear and grief that I felt on election night, and frankly the entire fiasco of the “campaign” leading up to it. But placing some weight on the good news, and yes, even the fluff news, helps us to digest the bad and troubling news. And once you’ve digested the bad news, you can move forward to decide how you will react to it, and what action, if any, you will take.

Am I okay with Stephen Bannon exerting influence at the White House? Absolutely not. Does being happy about the Oreo chocolate bar make my disgust for him any less valid? Absolutely not. Does it impair my capacity to react to what I see as bad governance/a storm up ahead? Absolutely not! In fact, bringing Bannon back to the forefront of my consciousness early in the morning was probably a good thing, as unpleasant as it may have been.

So my message today is balance. Balance your consumption of media. Balance your disgust with your joy. Balance your pauses and your action.

And don’t be afraid to read the paper.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

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