The attacks on Paris Friday, November 14, 2015, were terrible tragedies that will be remembered in history. They are eerily reminiscent of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. There are 2 natural reactions to such horrific incidents, the first being a deep sense of empathy for those lost, and their survivors. The second reaction is one of anger and retaliation. People have a natural sense to seek justice, and to balance the scales. However, as such an event unfolds – it captivates people, both near and far. For many hours they watch, listen, and read about the circumstances because they are seeking as much detail as possible. It’s like watching a terrible accident occur right in front of you, it’s impossible to look away.
For all except the very few who actually eye-witnessed the event, the only way to discover the details is through the media. Especially today with the fast moving methods of electronic communication, we have smart phone toting pedestrians, satellite transmitters on top of news trucks, and the internet to inform us of every event as it occurs. And we don’t just read about it, or listen to it, we watch it – and often as it’s happening. There always seems to be someone there with a smartphone or a video camera capturing the action real-time.
The combination of globally reaching digital technology paired with the ever-escalating competition for media organizations to bring you the latest breaking story in excruciating detail, the entire planet is being constantly bombarded with news. Unfortunately that news is bad news. Statistically, the news carried in the media is 75-90 percent negative. Why would the news be so damn depressing? Is the world in such dire straits? In a word, no. Of course there are horrific atrocities occurring globally every day, but there are even more good things happening at the same time. Unfortunately the good stories are not as exciting, and therefor don’t sell as well as the drama. So surprise, surprise, the media is biased towards negativity. Think about it, would you go see a movie where a guy has an average day, eats a nice meal, then goes to bed? Of course not. Action, sex, and drama sells. Almost every movie has some hero who is trying to save the world from certain doom. This is fun in the movies but unfortunately is can have a cumulative and negative effect on people.
For one thing, when a tragedy occurs, people are glued to the TV, radio, or computer, for what seems to be hours. I get it if you are directly impacted by the event such as a hurricane hitting your home town. But the vast majority of the time you are not directly affected by the event but are emotionally engaged as though you were watching a movie. You can’t wait to see what happens next. Like that accident right in front of you, you can’t turn away – or turn off the TV. After watching several hours of the same coverage, because once it happens, little changes afterwards, but we still can’t wait to get that next bit of news. It’s like an addiction. And like most addictions, there have very negative side effects.
Watching all this negative news on a daily basis has a tendency to make people depressed or pessimistic. It seems like the nightly news is nothing much more than a body count of how many people were shot in the city, apartments burned to the ground, or fatal car accidents. This is one reason why I stopped watching TV. I get no value from local news because all it seems to be about are shootings, fires, and car accidents. I prefer to maintain a positive attitude. I don’t listen to the conspiracy theorists as they spout their prophecies of apocalypse and dystopia. Looking back at history, there rarely seemed to be long periods of peace and quiet. There is always some war, famine, or pestilence occurring somewhere on the very large planet we live on. As Billy Joel once said,
We didn’t start the fire,
It was always burning,
Since the world’s been turning.
The wonderful thing I learned from Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning is that we will always have the power to choose how we react to any situation. So even if you do suffer from a horrific event, you will always have the freedom to choose how you think and how you react. As Viktor suffered in the Nazi concentration camps during WW2, he found a way to survive – both physically and emotionally. We certainly don’t face the same dire circumstance now that he did then. If Viktor can find a way to remain optimistic in the daily perils of that circumstance, we can in ours. We just need to stop listening to the relentless beating drum that is the overly negative news.
The media sensationalizes terrorism, airplane crashes, and other rare events because they are dramatic. This leads people to concern themselves much more with these types of events even though they are significantly less likely to occur. If rather than worrying about the rare events, we were to spend our time concerned with the more likely to occur events such as heart disease, cancer, suicide and car accidents, we will save many more lives. For example, you are much less likely to die in an airplane accident (risk of death 1 in 20,000) compared to driving (risk of death 1 in 121). However we rarely think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car. Yet most people think of the dangers of flying every time they do so.
A terrorist with an AK47 is an obvious and imminent threat. However, the silent and sinister killers that are heart disease, cancer, or suicide take significantly more lives per year (each) than do terrorists. Yet we spend much more time and resources worrying about terrorism. I heard in the news that the reason we are in the Middle East is because it’s better to fight the war there than here. I just wonder how much closer we would be to a cure for heart disease or cancer if we used the several trillion dollars on a cure rather than fighting wars in a foreign land.
Prepare for events that are more likely to occur and spend less time worrying about rare events that are statistically highly unlikely to ever happen to you. You will be more wisely spending your resources. So turn off the TV and go for a run. You may actually save a life – your own.