Breaking news: The news is breaking me

‘It’s hard to watch the news these days,’ someone said to me recently. ‘There’s so much suffering. And so many lies. I can’t stomach it.’

And they’re not alone. As new research suggests, an increasing number of people are turning away from the news because it lowers their mood.

The Reuters Institute’s Digital news report tells us that across the world, almost four in 10 (38%) say they ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ avoid the news – up from 29% in 2017. (The covid effect?)

The UK is even higher, with 46% of the population finding the news difficult, particularly the under-35’s.  36% of this age group said the news affected their mood.

So what do we do, when the breaking news is that the news is breaking us?

There has been much to be aghast about recently, from Covid to Partygate to Ukraine to the cost of living to flights to Rwanda etc etc.  With your distinctive input, this paragraph could run and run.

Although, in a way, that is the good news. We can see it, respond in some way.

Of more concern is the news that I am not hearing: the news that does not make it into the public domain because of cover-up, press collusion and fear: the abused child’s cry that will never be heard; the tortured prisoner unknown in the dark; the routine domestic violence behind closed doors; the lingering injustice of a Post Office-type organisational cover-up.

The news on the news is often not good – but at least it’s public.

So, what to do with it all? Is our default position guilt? I spoke with a leader recently who said they felt uncomfortable about a day off, ‘Because they don’t get days off in Ukraine.’

Others denounce the awfulness in prophetic outrage – or at least retweet another’s denouncing tweet. It’s a form of solidarity.

Others still feel ‘Why not me?’ They experience a mild version of what is felt by those who return from war, guilty that they have survived and their friends have not.

Or there is simply the enervating sense of powerlessness. ‘What can I do?’

We are asked to stay open to the world; but it’s difficult; and the reality is that we also need to stay closed.

If we felt each awfulness taking place at this moment, if we heard each scream, we would disintegrate; we’d be a pile of ash.

We’d never enjoy a meal or the moon or a friend or our football team gaining three valuable away points. The poor are always with us – but we’re still allowed to laugh.

We can only live the day and the people in front of us. This may include a letter of protest, or some money to charity or a stint with the food bank.

And, by the way, to celebrate my 65th birthday, I’m running a marathon for Ukraine and if you’d like to contribute, go here – and thank you!

But attention-seeking stunts like marathons may not be our thing. So, we perhaps we’ll light a candle and sit quietly for ten minutes in solidarity for some people on our heart. 

Mainly, it is the graceful living of our present experience – open to action, open to rage, open to beauty, open to people, open to laughter, open to rest.

All are important, all are allowed.

The person who spoke to me about the news is a teacher, who daily has thirty children in their care. There are few more inspiring or challenging tasks than that.

So, we won’t waste time with misplaced guilt or second-hand hysteria: we’ll allow it all through us. It may be blinding us to the needs, heroism, and delights of the day and people before us.

Let the breaking news be that, with self-care, the news won’t break us.

And so we become the good news.

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