How to React to Bad News Events

by Dan on May 26, 2009


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As I’m writing this, I am dealing with the sadness that the California Supreme Court has ruled that Proposition 8 is to be upheld.  In California, gays are not allowed to marry, as part of constitutional law.  It’s a blatant display of religious law overpowering individual rights, and the majority taking away the rights of a minority.  It’s sad, so how to react?

Maybe this wasn’t the best way to start the article, by picking a topic not everyone agrees with.

In broader terms, how should we react to the news in general?

There are 3 types of bad news:

A)  News that affects everyone, including you

B)  News that could affect everyone, but is currently not a big enough deal to worry about.

C)  News that has no effect on you and is just unpleasant.

Some of my favorite personal growth coaches say that you should ignore the news entirely.  They say don’t read the paper, don’t watch CNN, and ignore the updates on the radio.  The problem with that strategy is that there is news you have to know about.  If there’s an economic crisis and you can save money on your health insurance, that’s a valid thing to know about.  If there is a large forest fire in your area, you need to know which roads are open, and which neighborhoods are being evacuated (I live in California, so this is a very real topic).

On the positive side, you can know just about all you need to simply by glancing at the front of the newspapers when you’re walking up the street.  I just found out everything really necessary today by looking at the front page of the Union Tribune in my favorite coffee shop.  Also, you’re more likely than not to hear the necessary stuff from friends or family.  Of course, once you point them to this blog, they might stop reading the news too; then you all are in a pickle.

The amount of news you need to know is so small, that the newspapers could not fill up their pages every day if they stuck to the essentials.  To keep things interesting, they add in stories of “impending” crises that haven’t really had an impact yet.  North Korea tests a nuke.  Three Mexicans die of swine flu who already had health conditions before the pigs got sick to begin with.

How are you going to respond to these news stories?  Call up Mr. Kim in Korea and ask him to settle down?  Move to a country Mr. Kim is friends with?  Maybe you can get worried sick about the swine flu so you’re ready for the virus.  Stress would be a great way to lower your immune system for the swine flu to get in.

Here’s a clue.  If your city is targeted for termination by Mr. Kim, you will probably hear about it, with detailed instructions on where to go, even if you’re living under a rock.  If the U.S. Military can’t figure out where and when he will strike, you probably can’t either.  Swine flu news was a little more difficult, because the media was presenting it as a major threat when there was always little concern for worry.  In these cases you just have to take a quick look at the article to see if there’s any actionable information.

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The keyword is “actionable.”  Any news that is not actionable, meaning that there is not something you can do that day to make your life better, is not worth reading.  When reading about swine flu, the only action you can take is worrying, which doesn’t count.

The last type of news is my least favorite, and is horrendously saturating almost every news source available.  This is the “useless but sad” category.  You read about personal tragedies, kidnappings, domestic abuse, murder, rape, suicide.  What a horrible way to start your day.

If you think there’s any benefit of knowing about a fatal car crash in Florida if you live in Utah, I’d like you to reconsider.  Notice the news never reports on the amount of people who made it home with no traffic in time for dinner, or the single parent who gave her three year old daughter the best birthday ever.

Sometime in the media’s business history, it became clear that people are more likely to tune into the TV or pick up a paper if they are emotionally affected.  It’s far easier to make someone sad or angry or scared with news, than elated.

Celebrity gossip, as exhausted in my previous post, is also firmly in the useless category.  Even when US Weekly gives a celebrity props for losing 30 pounds, they’re waiting just for the right moment to catch her bounce-back.  Just avoid those entirely.

Unfortunately, we can’t help but be exposed to bad news, here and there, so we must have a strategy for how we will deal with it.  I think the best way is simple non-resistant acceptance.

Accept that it happened, and don’t put any extra meaning on it.  Meaning, if you read about a racist law that passes in the Midwest, don’t pass judgment.  Acknowledge it happened, but don’t let it mean for you that civil rights are losing a battle, or that people are not as good as you thought they were.  It is as it is.

The Sedona Method and Release Technique are great tools for situations like this.  In just about any time you’re emotionally affected, you’re feeling a loss of control, a loss of security, or a loss of approval.  Ask yourself what you’re feeling, accept it, and then let it go.  If you feel like humanity isn’t as you prefer, accept the feeling.  Let it in your body, and then let it go.  I’ll go into this with more detail in later posts.

About Proposition 8?   I hope it gets overturned, but until then, I’m not going to lose sleep over it.  I’m not called by my internal passion to lobby and take action and protest in the streets.  If protesting is something you feel called to do, meaning it’s not an effort, but a drive from within, go out and do what feels good.  If not, let yourself off the hook for caring too much.  If someone asks, state your position impassively, but don’t get into heated debates.

If you do love reading about current events, just for the intellectual stimulation, I recommend BBC news at http://news.bbc.co.uk.  They tend to be less biased and focus on more meaningful stories.  Also, despite being British, they don’t say “bloody” every other word, thankfully.  Feel free to comment.

–Dan

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