The Bad News Won’t Stop Coming (so then what?)

The longer you live, the more events you will live through. Now, we are aware of all of them. Nothing escapes notice or media attention, especially if it is bad. On the one hand, that’s beneficial; people can’t do anything about problems that have never reached their radar. On the other, it’s a burden; we hear of so much we can never do anything about, and yet, as emotional beings, we both want to, and are expected to respond in some way.

I think about this a lot. And I see in myself, a growing protective instinct. I have always been one to worry and fret and feel moved by other people’s pain, especially when it’s visited upon them by no fault of their own. I am not sure, however, that those emotions do anyone any good. In mid-life, too, I see that there’s no end to it. From here on out, it’s going to be one unfortunate thing after another. I mean specifically, in terms of what goes on in the world, in what I get exposed to through the media. Sure, there will be occasional positive, human interest stories that will be encouraging and make us all feel good. But they won’t be the bulk of it.

My issue here is not with the media. I don’t mean for it to seem like that. The horrible, terrible, evil, manipulative media. No. Media is driven by human beings. Not aliens. Even if “corporations” drive what we hear and see, corporations are still made up of people. People are behind it. People are feeding other people the worst possible news and whipping it up into a tsunami froth. I mean that in the greater sense, but also, thinking about it, in the more immediate, personal sense. Other people can’t wait to spill bad news in one-on-one interactions. “Did you hear about [insert whatever horrible event has just taken place]?” I distrust everyone’s motive, whether they’re individuals or media behemoths. Bad news is used like bargaining chips, to gain attention, leverage, and even a weird sort of power.

I am weary. I am not advocating sticking one’s head in the sand. That could be never be possible for somebody like me anyway. I think about the things I hear and see and experience always. Part of the issue is that I think critically; I don’t merely accept things the way they’re presented, or the way they’re spun. I am doubtful, skeptical. I sense I don’t have the whole story or it’s being slanted, or I’m just not in a position to truly understand. I really have no idea how much of the world works. And I don’t just accept the interpretation of the people shouting the loudest or firing the biggest guns. I don’t mean to suggest I’m wholly naive; this line of thought is independent of those events which I see as flat-out wrong, evil, with no question how they should be perceived. Even then, I’m at a loss for why. Nothing I’ve heard satisfies that.

I’m tired of being told, subtly and not so subtly, how I should respond. It all feels overwhelming. And what I see, as a population, is that we run from one thing to the next, and the speed is increasing. Most people seem willing to drop one issue as it fades, and then hop onboard the next. I don’t feel able to drop them. Instead, they accumulate in my psyche. Maybe even fester there. I feel weighted. There is so much in my mind that I wish I’d never heard, things that would have never occurred to me had I not been told them; seen or heard that such things went on, that people could do the horrendous things they do as individuals, as groups, as countries. I know but I don’t want to know. I wish I didn’t have to know.

As I said, I find myself being more protective. I sign into Yahoo email from the UK or Singapore page because many of the news headlines are unfamiliar to me and I am less likely to be unwittingly drawn to them. I do not regularly read or join into online discussions of current events. I am tired of the urgent, dramatic newscasters who pound relentlessly away at every little nuance of every horrible event, urging us to get caught up in the unfolding story and all its unsavory details, whatever they may be. I get the gist of a story and I stop watching. I check back in later.

Whenever I first get whiffs of any unfolding terrible thing, I get a sick feeling and I now see myself resisting more often. Don’t tell me anything more bad. There is no good to be had in learning every possible detail available to know about a killer, for example; who his mother was, what his grade school friends said about him, what stops he made in the days leading up to the event, what items he bought. Atrocity as bedtime story, as beach read. How this could have been avoided. Whatever “this” is. If only, if only. And: “We will never let ‘this’ happen again.”

It doesn’t work that way!! It. Just. Doesn’t. Work. That. Way. Evidently. New bad things happen, old bad things repeat. And we hear about all of it. And we’re supposed to DO something. But what? I personally don’t take much solace in marches, and candle lighting, and ribbon wearing, and writing my Congressman. I know these things work for some people and that’s good. It just isn’t for me. I continue to struggle with this, and yet, as I’ve said, I see myself increasingly pulling back, almost unconsciously putting up protective barriers, ones that conserve my energy for the things I have to do, the things which must come first, all the mundane details of functioning in a life. Then, I do what I can. I’ve made occasional contributions to the Red Cross for one disaster or another. I hope it means something but I don’t know. I haven’t donated to anything to awhile, to this fund or that fund for this bad event or that bad event.

I don’t have a fully resolved answer. I’m working my way through this. I know things I didn’t twenty years ago and it affects how I proceed. Especially now, as I’ve said, there’s no positive end imaginable. It’ll be the same for the rest of my days. There are new horrors out there, waiting in the wings. Of that, I’m sure. I don’t know why. I have no good explanation. For every crappy thing that happens in the world. I doubt I ever will. I think you just come up with an explanation that works best for you. One that allows you to go on.

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45 thoughts on “The Bad News Won’t Stop Coming (so then what?)

  1. Deb

    I don’t think that you’re alone in the overload department at all. If we choose to be honest with ourselves, there is only so much any one person can listen to, see, participate in, or be an activist about. Even then, I personally have to pull back and just stop. While it can be difficult not to see or hear, personal involvement can mean many things, even if that means no action, or not lending your voice as in my case. We need this self-regulation to take stock, adjust if necessary, and decide how, when, and to what we feel we can respond. It may be a new ’cause’ or it may be nothing – as in an extended break from our crazy, ugly world. We do it to survive and not become one of the news stories ourselves.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Well put, Deb. I wrestle with this. I feel both an instinct and a sense of obligation to care and yet, at what cost? And who does it help? Self-protection is good but shutting down or refusing to care is not. I have a different vantage now, though, as I imagine decades more of this, to match the ones past.

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  2. Doobster418

    “So then what?” Yes, that is the question. We react, we respond, we shut our eyes and cover our ears. We shed tears or we get angry. And then we go about our daily lives just like we did before because that’s what we have to do. And we use our blogs to express to anyone who cares to read them how we are feeling about things. How angry, how upset, how frustrated, how helpless, how sad we feel. And maybe doing that makes us feel a little bit better for a short period of time.

    Until the next bad thing happens.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Exactly. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I don’t know a better way than what you describe, and yet, the idea of proceeding this way is so dismal. I am applying emotional brakes.

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  3. battlewagon13

    I 100% agree with you. My 97 year old grandfather comes to visit and insists on watching the news every night at 6:30pm. Every. Single. Night. It is the most horrendous stuff – followed by one short story at the end showing how some little boy with cancer in Norway let a balloon go and it was found by some little girl that proved to have his same blood type in Sweden. Its just all a made-up sham of a show designed to get viewers – not report the news.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Yes, I feel manipulated, even times when whatever godawful latest event elicits genuine concern and compassion. I would think a 97 year old person would have had enough but maybe he compartmentalizes or has a philosophy. I certainly can’t take in all the horrific news dispassionately. And I’m just not sure how taking it all in and crying in my living room helps anybody.

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  4. John Callaghan

    Something I really enjoy doing is reading and watching documenteries about history. I don’t really have a favourite time period. I became particularly interested in history when I was getting my degree in Comparative Literature because all the works we studied were done so in an historical context. Anyway, my point is in studying history I come away with such a posative and good feeling about the world today. We have come so far. The world, right now, is a better than at any other time in history. Every time I see a news story of an attrocity I’m first saddened but then I think, oh man, this could have been so much worse 100, 500, or 1000 years ago. Right now I’m listening to a series of lectures called “The Other Side of History” which are about the daily lives of average citizens throughout the ages. After listening to this I come away so grateful for the world I live in.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I think you could do an interesting post on that topic.

      My first thought, John, is that when people are in a particular time, say 100 or 500 years ago, they’d be unlikely to view their time as particularly bad, and more as just a “time” or how things are (for what it’s worth, I believe many would be horrified by modern life for many reasons). And If you carry out your thought, it would have future generations looking back on now, on us, with pity.

      It isn’t that I’m saying these are bad times as comparable to other times so much that we are now all too aware of every horrid thing that occurs. This is new and difficult to process and deeply saddening, for me.

      That series sounds interesting.

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    2. writerinsoul Post author

      I want to add that I think you’re talking to me about the importance of perspective, of pulling back and taking the long view. You’re right, I think, but it’s somewhere I can only visit, not live.

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      1. John Callaghan

        I guess for me it helps that I work with handicapped adults and every day I get to see this population live full lives that are fantastic. Rich, productive, happy, joyous lives, where they want for nothing, and I’m grateful every day to live in a time and place where this kind of world is possible.

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  5. markbialczak

    I watch the nightly news and hope that somehow, some way, the human spirit individually and collectively will find a way to prevail in the big picture, Colette. The lead stories are numbing and horrifying and depressing, but there are also stories, as you allude, that can be uplifting and optmistic. I don’t believe that the good stories are manufactured or manipulated. I worked in newspaper newsrooms for 35 years and saw reporters find real stories about real people every day, every time.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I know I responded to this but now don’t see it…

      I do believe the human spirit prevails because we’re still here. But that doesn’t change how people are impacted by being blasted with one bad bit of news after another. Years and decades of this take a toll. I’m looking ahead to many more years of the same and it really gives me pause. I don’t suggest that good human interest stories are manufactured so much as doled out as a sort of consolation prize. The bad news takes up a disproportionate space in my personal psyche.

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    2. Angie Mc

      Mark, I tend to separate my “news” from real stories about real people…hmmm, I may need to rethink that! Thanks for sharing about how you sift through so much media and walk away happy and whole 🙂

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        1. Angie Mc

          You are right, Mark. I can see that you have a great ability to take in a lot of information and make sense of it. I have a similar trait related to interpersonal interactions but it doesn’t seem to translate to the news!

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  6. vanbytheriver

    I took some time to respond to your post, as I often feel challenged by many of the same issues. My daughter has discovered that she is just too sensitive to take on much of what we are bombarded with on a minute by minute basis. She and her husband gave up TV completely. They are selective in their exposure to current events and it has helped them find balance. This inspired me . I have always been a bit of a news junkie, and decided to experiment with a 2 week abstinence from all media. It was like a mental vacation for me. Then, Paris was attacked and I was back on board. There is a personal lesson in there somewhere, if I would just pay attention. Still working on it .

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Makes total sense. I’m wired up like your daughter and I might suggest that women in particular have a tougher time. (A whole other notion/post…) Unlike you, Van, I was never a news junkie but feel an obligation to know what’s going on and a natural inclination to empathize with suffering people; that I owe them – even if they are half-way around the globe – my acknowledgment, my response, if only internally. We are all so connected now, but there is such a helplessness to much of it.

      Your two-week break sounds wise. It’s probably the only real way to pull back and evaluate objectively. What is really giving me pause – and prompted this post – is the thought of continuing along in this fashion the rest of my (hopefully cognizant) life. I see myself doing the emotional equivalent of touching a hot stove and yanking back. It’s not sustainable; I’m showing signs of flagging.

      Thank you for your thoughtful response.

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  7. Angie Mc

    Hi, Colette, I whole heartedly agree and… what a relief. For too many years I was “surprised” by the pain and suffering of the world. I’m pretty thick skinned but none the less, the bad news got wearying. My first child was super sensitive and that got me off the news and I began to heal. I’m still super selective about what and who I let in. But the biggest surprise to me now isn’t the hell on earth…but the love. It’s as if I now accept that hell is real and I, like you, will do what I can to help others within my sphere of influence. But I’m not eaten alive by it… I don’t lose energy or sleep (too much) over it. Yet, now my eyes will fill when I see a simple kindness offered from one person to another. Now I’m “surprised” by love. It’s a sweet place to be and I’m not exactly sure how I got here. Great post, thank you.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      And thank you, Angie. I could definitely see where having children (I don’t ) would give someone all the more incentive to keep an eye on what enters into your world. It sounds as if you’ve been willful and purposeful in deciding where to put your focus (and I do mostly subscribe to the idea that where our focus goes, so go our experiences).

      I do indeed agree that there are many decent people out there and much good to be had. For me it’s finding a balance; I’m too easily affected by the influx of bad news and yet don’t want to check out and shutter down entirely.

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      1. Angie Mc

        Interestingly, when my children grew older they dragged me back into the mess, lol. And I’m glad. You are right, it’s about knowing when to engage and when not to engage. And when I check out, I do so to gain energy and regroup so that I can face the difficulties that life throws at me.

        Hope your weekend is free of bad news ❤

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          1. Angie Mc

            Teens and young adults seem to have more of a stomach for such matters! And to be fair, they bring a ton of good humor, great music, and bad clothes & haircuts 😀 So perhaps some of this is about the season of life we find ourselves in. For me, some seasons focused more on my heart softening and some seasons focused on my skin thickening. I need both and with practice over time it gets easier to choose one or the other, or use both at the same time, given any circumstance.

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            1. writerinsoul Post author

              That’s an excellent point, about the seasons of life. I’ve always been strongly affected (by well, everything), but to your point, I can think of times I was grieving a death in my life or dealing with something huge and was unable to focus as much on world events or tragedies affecting strangers. Our conversation has kept me thinking and I may have to come at this again in another post…

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  8. Angie Mc

    Reblogged this on Angie Mc's Reblog Love and commented:
    “I see myself increasingly pulling back, almost unconsciously putting up protective barriers, ones that conserve my energy for the things I have to do, the things which must come first, all the mundane details of functioning in a life.”

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  9. Andrew Davis

    You display an honesty and frustration that people I know continually avoid, or if they do broach the subject will do so in a sound bite, talking head fashion, merely as a topic of conversation traded with “how is work going?”. If I choose to be honest about my feelings on bad things that people do (excluding force majeure from the list) eventually the main driving force will be anger and most people I talk with are uncomfortable getting in touch with their anger. Like I said, the conversation is meant to pass the time and not be terribly substantial. The problem lies with our personal inability to shake the damage from our minds. I can take a weeklong break from news, just for self-preservation, but the nightmares and feelings of powerless eventually return. I find my best days when I wake conscious that today is a new day and proceed to be fabulously productive. My best days are when I focus on myself, what I want to do, and selfishly ignore the siren call of drama. By the way, I write the preceding sentence to motivate myself to have more “best days” and be less impressionable. I am responsible and accountable for my actions. It is currently my saving grace from worldwide horror. Thank you for the discussion.

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    1. Angie Mc

      Andrew, thank you for this, “I find my best days when I wake conscious that today is a new day and proceed to be fabulously productive. My best days are when I focus on myself, what I want to do, and selfishly ignore the siren call of drama. By the way, I write the preceding sentence to motivate myself to have more “best days” and be less impressionable. I am responsible and accountable for my actions. It is currently my saving grace from worldwide horror.”

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        1. Angie Mc

          Oh, Andrew, I’m jealous! I’m the opposite. I can talk (perhaps too much) more easily than I can write which is an ongoing challenge for me at my blog. I so admire those who write well. I hope that you and other excellent writers rub off on me 😀

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    2. writerinsoul Post author

      Great thoughtful comment, Andrew. What you say rings very true. Maybe it’s a defense or coping skill, but the coffee-talk level of discussing horrors is very common and puts me off tremendously. It’s hard to escape, especially in the days immediately following a terrible event. Sometimes I brace myself for things I know I’ll be hearing out & about in public settings or possibly from people I know.

      Your words about being “selfish” and setting your sights on productivity that benefits you also are familiar. I have been trying to do more of that and it definitely seems like a better use of time. Energy gone and something to show for it.

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  10. Andrew Davis

    A better use of time. I like that. Having lived four decades I now take time more seriously. I am more thoughtful of time especially when I take stock of my day in the evening. I want to be a better person and constantly rely on self-validation to get things done. Being selfish allows me to get my things done rather than feel obligated to do things or spend time on things (or people) I’d rather not. I am not always successful in being selfish( actually, I am often unsuccessful) but I believe in the next time. There’s always optimism in next time!

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I totaly get this. I have become hyper-vigilant about other people ill-using my time. The only one I want squandering it is me! My “selfishness” was a very long time in coming and I feel that, like you, I can see the dividends in short order.

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  11. Maggie Wilson

    “From here on out, it’s going to be one unfortunate thing after another. I mean specifically, in terms of what goes on in the world, in what I get exposed to through the media. Sure, there will be occasional positive, human interest stories that will be encouraging and make us all feel good. But they won’t be the bulk of it.”

    I’ve snipped that one paragraph from your piece as something that I recognize as my own sentiment. Essentially, though, I could cut and paste the entire post.

    My women’s group had their inaugural meeting. Our guest speaker talked to us about the need to protect the town’s water source from a potential threat. She was articulate, passionate, intelligent. And a flop. The audience didn’t want to hear any more negative. They were there to escape it, or, at the very least, find enough good to balance the bad.

    Excellent post. Thanks for sharing on my blog post “Tune Out”. https://mcwilson1956.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/tune-out/

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      And thank you for reading and commenting, so generously at that. The parallels really struck me as I read your post. And good idea to post your link here too. (Just reading the words “protect the town’s water source…” make me begin to shy away. I wonder what other speakers you’ll have next, if you haven’t yet?) –Colette

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  12. Pingback: You said it would be fun. Where’s the fun? | The Zombies Ate My Brains

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