If you watch a lot of mainstream television, you might think our community is a dangerous place. You might even believe there are more terrible things going on than kindness and beauty. But you would be wrong. You would also most likely be anxious, depressed, fearful and cynical.
A steady diet of media and popular culture can fill our minds with graphic depictions, both real and imagined, of violent crime, murder, torture, rape, abuse, abduction, mean-spirited words and behaviors, along with greed and corruption. However, that is not an accurate picture of the world we live in.
First let me make clear, I am not proposing that terrible things don’t happen. They do. I deal with the fall-out of these terrible things every day in my counseling practice. People are hurt. People die. But it is also true that much more good is occurring everywhere all around us, than we know. So where does this perception of doom and gloom come from? It is based on several factors.
We live in a time when just about anything that happens anywhere in the world that is tragic, is reported on the news, and reported and reported and reported. Just the other day I learned that a young man in Los Angeles fell 800 feet to his death on his second day of work building a high rise. 100 years ago, even 50 years ago, it is doubtful I would have heard about this. Or if I did it would be weeks or months after the event and appear as a one inch column in the back pages of a newspaper. If we watch the news we hear about many, many of the painful things going on all over the globe. We see the pictures. We hear the cries. We are human and we are affected. We aren’t built to track and process so much, so quickly.
Another problem is with the media itself. Conflict and drama are the stuff of engaging story-telling, so news reports and crime shows enhance these qualities to keep viewers tuning in. If the survival part of the brain can be activated through fear, it will feel like a life or death matter to tune in for the latest news or to watch the latest crime drama. We often believe if we feed that old survival part of the brain with more details and information, we will feel safer, but typically just the opposite takes place. Instead, we feel filled with anxiety and fear. We may even begin to avoid going certain places, doing certain things…living our life.
The biggest problem of all may be that most of us are misinformed. Violent crime has actually been decreasing overall since colonial times and while it rose some during the period from 1970 to the late 1990s, since then it has fallen dramatically and is now again at levels equal to the 1960s. Read more about this here. So in general we are probably safer than we have ever been.
Finally, most of us just don’t get to hear about so much that is good. In my other job as a Program Officer for a local foundation, I have the privilege of learning about thousands of people working in hundreds of non-profit organizations who are making life in Southwest Oregon better. Many of these people are volunteers, or employees working long hours for little pay, to feed people, to teach skills or music or art, or to provide new clothes for kids living in poverty so they can go to school feeling good about themselves.
Then there are the mentoring programs and dance programs and people who work with horses specially trained for folks with disabilities to ride, so they can build their physical and emotion strength. There are doctors who donate their time to provide medical care to those who still can’t access insurance or afford to pay for premiums or co-pays. There are those who fight to restore the environment and teach kids how to grow food. The list goes on and on. In fact, I can drive down the streets of any town in our region and point out place after place where love and caring is being expressed in hundreds of different ways. I feel so lucky that I know this is all going on, all around us, all the time. Now you do too.
When my counseling clients are anxious or depressed or struggling with insomnia, I often ask what they watch on TV and how often. And, I often recommend that they start a media diet in which they limit their exposure to bad news and find a way to get involved in something that makes a difference. Try it for a week and see how you feel. I can almost guarantee your outlook will improve and you might just improve some little corner of the world too.