October 2014 Eschewing the ‘news’ in papers or TV was the sanest choice he ever made,says Warina Tilli Whenever I break my promise to myself and read a newspaper or scan a website to see what’s going on in the world, I feel awful. Sometimes, I get a splitting headache. You can’t blame me, though, what with all the horror stories that the media relentlessly bombards us with – stories about suicide bombings in this country, and civil war in that, and about political bigwigs thundering against each other for alleged corruption and crime, reports of rapes and sex scandals, murders and mounting inflation, looming famine and endemic poverty, news about melting icebergs, rapidly disappearing tropical forests, and species hovering on the verge of extinction. That’s pretty much what passes off for ‘news’ these days. As they say, for the media ‘bad news is good news.’ Last week, after having stayed off from ‘news’ for a fortnight, I decided to take a peek at the newspaper. Half an hour later, I put the paper down. I was utterly exhausted. Drained of all hope, joy and enthusiasm. Completely paralysed. Overwhelmed with worry about the present, and fear about the future. That there was nothing that could stop the world from hurtling towards a terrible end. That for me to feel cheerful and happy in the midst of the enormous misery around me was an unthinkable crime. Why read? There was a time when I felt that I just had to be in the know of what was happening all over the world – by which, of course, is meant, by and large, all the frightening things I just mentioned. Not once did I ask myself, though, why I needed this information in the first place. How was reading about a terrorist group downing a plane in some country I would probably never visit, a sex idol divorcing her seventh husband, or the marathon victory of a certain political party in a recent election help me in my own personal life? How, if at all, could such information make me a better, happier, more loving and compassionate person? Being hooked on to ‘news’ might make me an informed person, but could it make me a transformed person – which, in the final analysis, was all that mattered. I never paid a moment’s attention to such questions. Never in my many years of being addicted to ‘news’ did it ever cross my mind that ingesting a heavy dose of negative ‘news’, often heavily sensationalized and alarmist, every morning, could prove to be deadly poison for my soul, mind and body. Being addicted to ‘news’ seemed so utterly ‘natural’ that it never struck me that till say four generations ago, our ancestors lived perfectly decent lives without the daily newspaper. There was another reason why I was hooked on to ‘news’: unconsciously, I felt that it was important for me to know about the terrible things happening across the world because that, I thought, was my way of empathizing and bonding with people undergoing horrific suffering. Not to read about their plight was, I felt, tantamount to selfish indifference. No more news Ever since I realized the havoc that regular doses of ‘news’ were playing with my soul, mind and body, I decided that I just had to cut down consuming it. Sometimes these days, I go without ‘news’ for weeks – and then I feel amazingly positive. At such times, I am able to discern the goodness that abounds all around me – things to cheer and celebrate that the newspapers don’t ever talk about, things that give me hope, and a reason to live and love life. It could be watching a kitten playing with a paper ball, or a little baby girl gurgling in her cradle, drinking a cup of coffee with a friend and savouring the conversation, or seeing a cloud floating in the sky or an old man feeding an army of ants – things newspapers wouldn’t consider particularly ‘newsworthy’ and ‘significant’. I do still feel a twinge of guilt sometimes, though, when I stay off ‘news’ for a long stretch. Am I being indifferent to the plight of people going through unimaginable pain, I ask myself then, in places like Gaza or Iraq or the Ukraine? Am I trying to shut my eyes to the undeniable pain of life? Am I being a cowardly escapist? Perhaps there’s some truth in this accusation – I wouldn’t deny it outright. But I calm myself down by telling myself that knowing about all the horrors that the newspapers, websites and TV channels endlessly talk about won’t enable me personally to make any meaningful difference to the tragic situations that they describe. It hasn’t done that for the almost half century that I was hooked onto ‘news’, and I doubt it will in the future. Ever since I gave up dreams of changing the entire world, I’m quite content with trying to bring cheer to, and share my love with, myself to begin with, and then the humans and other beings who inhabit my immediate vicinity. The best way I can do that, I’ve realised, is to be a cheerful and loving person myself. Injecting myself with regular doses of negative ‘news’ won’t help me at all in that regard, I know. In fact, it can possibly make things worse – by making me negative, fearful, worried, bitter, cynical and hopeless. And if it drains the joy and hope out of my life, how can I bring joy and hope to others? Learning about positive things, events and people would be a much better use of my limited time, energy and resources. Reading the ‘good news’ of the Bible, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada or the maxims of Kabir, Rabindranath Tagore, Osho or even Enid Blyton is, I’ve discovered, a far better use of time, and far more likely to help me evolve as a person, than compulsively reading newspapers. Watching the clouds slowly crawl by, or marvelling at a rose in bloom or a tadpole merrily swimming about, is, I know, a far better use of my time than watching ‘news’ on TV for hours on end. By staying off ‘news’ that I don’t personally need, there are, I am firmly convinced, greater chances that I’d be able to really help others, by becoming a better, more loving, joyful and compassionate person, than if I were to remain the news addict that I once was. Almost all the great men and women who left a major mark on the world, I tell myself, never even saw, leave alone read, a newspaper, a TV news channel or a news website: the Buddha, Moses, Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad, Kabir, Mira Bai, Bulleh Shah, Rabia Basri, Moinuddin Chishti, Jalaluddin Rumi, Guru Nanak, Confucius, Lao Tse, and a great many others. At times when I wonder if I’m running away from the harsh realities of life by avoiding ‘news’ I have to remind myself that the world is in God’s hands – not ours, not even in the hands of the media or the politicians who think they run it – and that whatever happens, no matter how painful, must, in the ultimate analysis, happen for the best. You begin to see God’s hand and wisdom behind all events, even the seemingly most tragic. When you realize that God is taking care of His universe in exactly the way He wants to and knows to best, you won’t any longer fear that given the way the media says the world is going, you might soon lose your mental balance. Don’t get me wrong. I definitely don’t think newspapers and ‘news’ websites and TV channels ought to be wound up. I also don’t mean to say that there’s nothing good whatsoever to be gained from the ‘news’ media. I definitely don’t deny that some ‘news’ can be important and useful, even indispensable, and that the ‘news’ media certainly serve a valuable purpose in highlighting it. Without the media, it might have been impossible for this sort of ‘news’ to be communicated to vast numbers of people. My point is simply that I personally don’t feel the need to be addicted to consume enormous amounts of what most of them churn out as ‘news’—on an almost moment-to-moment basis. I prefer to pick and choose what ‘news’ I want to read or hear or watch, if at all, depending on what I feel is useful and important for me. No longer do I feel driven, as I once used to, to allow my sense of reality be totally controlled by the media. I find life infinitely less troubling this way, enormously more beautiful.
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