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On Switching Off the News

We need to be informed, of course. But, in order to stay sane, we may also need – at points – to forget or at least not to remember with such vehemence and regularity.

A half-way balanced life requires a combination of inner and outer concern: we have to internalize the general message that emerges from a crisis without, however, getting so deeply immersed in the minute-by-minute particulars that we allow these to become the means by which we lose our hold on reason and become impotent to face our responsibilities to ourselves and those we care for. We must both register and yet at the same time mute. 

We are so used to equating our humanity with our capacity to feel that we are apt to lose sight of what a necessary achievement it can occasionally be to remain numb

Such are the limits of our own concentration and emotional resources, a serious concern for the people who deeply depend on us must involve a calculated restriction of sympathy for, and interest in, the wider picture – a recognition, far from psychopathic in nature, that however immediate and alarming the news updates can be, the issues these raise are not right now always our own. We will have nothing substantial to offer others so long as we have forgotten to be for a time appropriately self-focused.

We need occasional relief from the otherwise powerful impression that civilisation is ending in the coming hours. We could benefit from being able to rise up into space in our imaginations, many kilometres above the mantle of the earth, to a place where today’s events will lose a little of their power to affect us – and where even the most intractable problems seem to dissolve against the aeons of time to which the view of other galaxies attests. 

We should at times forgo our own news in order to pick up on the far stranger, more wondrous headlines of those less eloquent species that surround us: kestrels and snow geese, spider beetles and black-faced leafhoppers, lemurs and small children – all creatures usefully uninterested in our own pains; counterweights to our anxieties and alarm. 

A tolerably sane life requires a capacity to recognize the times when the news no longer has anything important to teach us, when we have learnt its key lessons and won’t benefit from being further terrified; periods when we must leave the wider story in order to attend to the pains and needs of a more domestic circle.

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