Breaking Our News Addiction
Can you go two weeks without following the news?
“The news is so bad,” a friend said to me the other day. “I’m really frightened and worried – but I need to know what’s going on.”
“Why do you need to know?” I asked. “Are you campaigning to be the next Prime Minister of Britain or President of the US (both jobs seemingly up in the air and available to just about anyone!)? Are you sitting on some important intelligence committee or involved with strategic planning?”
Yes, we all believe that we need to know what’s going on in the world. So we immerse ourselves in a constant barrage of information that damages our peace of mind, our ability to function and ultimately our trust in the Almighty. With the information overload and our relative inability to influence events, it’s all too easy to give in to despair.
Here’s a radical solution: Turn off the radio or television or computer – whatever is the source of your news. Yes, just turn it off. If you turn it on a week or two weeks later, you may have missed some specific events that someone will tell you about anyway, it’s unlikely anything significant will have changed. And if anything significant changes, it’s unlikely it will affect you. And if affects you, it’s unlikely you can do anything about it!
When we were living in Israel during the Gulf War, we were all glued to our radios. We were news junkies, awaiting minute by minute updates. We could rationalize our behavior (and thus our distraction from more spiritually-oriented endeavors) by telling ourselves that we would hear the siren through our radios and of course we needed to hear the siren. Someone came up with a brilliant solution – a solution that allowed us to both hear the sirens on Shabbos and engage in our regular daily activities without fear of missing it: they created a radio station that was silent – unless there was a siren! No more wasted time listening to the 24-hour news cycle.
If you can’t quite bring yourself to turn it off, then drastically limit it and tune in once a day.
If you can’t quite bring yourself to turn it off, then drastically limit it and tune in once a day. Don’t make the news, especially the bad news, the background noise to your life. Even without this particular negative effect, there are so many reasons not to have the television or radio constantly playing. Get the information you (think you) need and then turn it off. And avoid talk radio at all costs!
This is a practical approach with spiritual benefits. Now that we have weaned ourselves from activities that take us down a dark path, we need to look for a positive response. In this I remind myself of the verse in Proverbs (21:1) that teaches us that the “heart of the king is in the hand of the Almighty”. It seems like the world leaders are controlling the world but it is only an illusion. Nothing happens without the Almighty’s acquiescence. He is pulling the strings. This is a comfort despite how dire events may look on the surface. He is running the world. It is all according to His master plan. I tell myself these ideas over and over and over all day, every day. They help me out when I get into a funk about challenges in my personal life and they enable me to move forward after I’ve broken my own rule and snuck a peak at the news!
Without this knowledge, I would be paralyzed, I would despair. With this knowledge, I have only hope. There may be challenging times ahead (when have there not been?) but ultimately it will be good. I believe that most of us recognize this reality. It is what gives us the hope and energy to get out of bed every day and put one foot in front the next and keep moving.
It takes self-discipline not to watch the news. It can be an addiction, a bad habit like any other – but if there’s anything that we really “need to know”, it’s not what Anderson Cooper or Chris Matthews have to report; it’s that this world is run by the Almighty who is a loving Father who only wants our good and that ultimately everything will work out.