It’s is not a new question to be asking. 2000 years ago, the Roman Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus questioned the effects that negative forms of socialization have in our lives. We, as philosophers, should not worry about the things that most people do as a result of their constant consumption of news media.
“How could we acquire courage if we had merely learned that the things which seem dreadful to the average person are not to be feared, but had no experience in showing courage in the face of such things?” he asks.
You too can exercise the Stoics' ancient brand of philosophical wisdom and not get upset about events in the news. Terrorism? A shooting? Crisis? Corrupt Politicians? Freedom from these concerns can be yours via these 4 important realizations:
1. News Is Mostly Irrelevant to Your Life
Most people say that they consume news to stay informed. But what exactly are you going to do with the information? Can you actually remember a news headline from a year ago that caused you to lead a better life right now? That should be the primary question you ask yourself. How is this story even relevant to my life? Is there any way I can apply this information or actually do something that will directly impact the outcome? Most of the time, the answer is no.
The Stoic perspective is to wish other people well, but realize that you don't have any control over what happens to people in other parts of the country or on the other side of the world. You only control your own doing.
2. News is About Things Which Are Out of Your Control
It is easy to let the news skew your perspective. You watch a plane crash, a terrorist attack, or a story about a brutal murder. You become emotionally involved with the story, or worried that the same thing will happen to you and your loved ones. In reality though, there is nothing you can do about such events.
Epictetus thought that we can only control our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions, so there is no point in worrying about what we can’t change.
Bottom line: there is nothing to fear from things that aren't present, or from perceived threats which are extremely unlikely to happen. The Stoics believed that we should show courage in the face of actual danger, but that does not include worry about exaggerated threats that we hear about in mass media.
3. News Is Bad For Your Physical and Mental Health
The news causes you to focus on outside events. And, for whatever reason, the focus of contemporary news is on predominantly negative events. According to this study, people who watch negative news stories tend to feel more anxiety, and to sensationalize unrelated events in their own lives afterwards. Negative thoughts induce stress. Consuming negative news triggers a stress response by the body’s limbic system.
Knowing that news can have these physiological effects on you is the first step to overcoming them. Marcus Auelius recommends that you look inside yourself, rather than outside, for the source of your strength and meaning in life.
4. News is a Waste of Time
If you spend a half hour every day absorbing news, that adds up to 3.5 hours per week, 14 hours per month, and 728 hours per year. Over the course of 65-70 years, that is about 50,000 hours.
That is an awful lot of your life spent on something of dubious value. Instead, think of all the additional time you will have to spend on things that actually contribute to your personal growth and fundamental well-being, such as spending time with family, practicing an art or hobby, volunteering your time, or reading philosophy. Your time is precious – don't waste it. To quote Aristotle:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
So should you stop consuming news altogether? My opinion is that while the Stoic perspective can protect you from the ill effects of negative news, yes, you should cut the news out to a large extent if you want equanimity. There are enough challenges in life already without also having to force yourself to stay rational in the face of negative news stories many times a day.
If anything that is worth knowing about happens, you will hear about it from everyone else who is still plugged in to the Matrix, believe me. During the next big crisis, take the opportunity practice being unperturbed.
If complete news avoidance sounds too extreme for you, you might limit yourself to only quality investigative journalism, positive news, economic news, selected alternative news sources, or news about worthwhile subjects. Forget about the celebrity gossip and junk which accounts for a huge percent of mass media. If you choose to consume news, you have to remain hyper rational and vigilant – don’t let yourself slip back into annoyance, worry, and senseless time wasting digesting the latest headlines.
This is the first post in a 3 part series about media. Click here to read Part 2 and Part 3.
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