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I’ve been trying it as an experiment: not reading the news, at all. I didn’t really think it would make that much difference. The experiment is now going on Day 10, and the results are so dramatic that — were this a formal protocol — I’d be morally obliged to halt the experiment, take the control group off the placebo, and give them the no-news treatment.
The change is not — I repeat, not — a minor effect; and every bit of intuition (for what that’s worth) tells me that neither is it merely the result of expecting to feel better and therefore feeling better. I’m sleeping better. I’m waking up more refreshed. I’m enjoying every moment of my life more. I have more energy. I’m more patient with everyone around me. The effect is comparable to, say, getting regular physical exercise (as opposed to sitting on my rump all day), or to my change in mood when spring finally arrives after a long, cold and gloomy winter. I’m not so somatically self-involved that I take regular measurements of these things, but I’d be curious to know if I’ve experienced a change in blood pressure, resting heart rate, cortisol levels, and so forth. From the way I feel, I’d be unsurprised to learn that I have.
It makes sense, I suppose: the news is unremittingly bleak. I’m a fairly sensitive person. Of course I feel better when I don’t know what’s happening beyond my lovely and peaceful neighborhood. I’m sure it’s better for my mental and physical health to be cheerfully oblivious. But there’s only one problem: it’s wrong.
It’s true that my power to solve the world’s problems is extremely limited. Probably nugatory. It’s easy to say that, therefore, there’s no point in troubling myself with its condition. It’s even easy to say that it is affirmatively good to make oneself cheerfully and deliberately oblivious, if it allows one to be a kinder and more patient person in one’s daily interactions. I can talk myself into believing this for a while; I’m good at conducting very elaborate jury trials in my own head, and my attorney always wins.
But, if I’m honest with myself, this one doesn’t pass the categorical imperative test. I don’t want to live in a world in which everyone has — in effect — abdicated the duties and responsibilities of informed citizenship; this would not be a better place were we all to shut off the sound of the voices of our suffering fellow beings because we sleep better when we do. It isn’t human to say, “All those screams of agony are disturbing my wa, please bring me my earplugs.” Or rather, it’s quite human, but that’s not really the side of humanity of which we may all be proud.
I’ve spent a lifetime feeling something quite close to contempt for those around me who exhibit no interest in reality beyond their immediate worlds,
or no desire to participate in the unfolding story of human history. I don’t think I was wrong to feel that.
On the other hand, I now see clearly how much mental and physical harm accrues from paying attention. At the very least, I seem to be in good company. Thomas Jefferson apparently felt the same way: “I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”
Has anyone here noticed anything similar? Figured out a way to thread this needle?
Image Credit: Flickr user: H. Raab.Published in