Handling the News

For much of human history, news only traveled as fast as a man could run. Later, it traveled only as fast a horse, and later, as humans expanded over the face of the earth, news traveled as fast as the wind via sailing ships.

Now, news is instantaneous. What happens in one part of the world is instantly known, so not only do we have to deal with what we see, hear, feel in our personal space, and deal with what we learn from friends and neighbors about what is going on in our nearby vicinity, we have to deal with crisis all over the world. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we are constantly being inundated with stories of decades-old atrocities, lest we forget.

It makes me wonder how all this affects us. I know how it makes us feel emotionally, and it sometimes even goads us do something, no matter how futile. But for a species that grew up in relatively newsless societies, it can’t be good for us. Even if the news is true, even if the reasons for the news as well as the backstory we are being fed is true, what possible difference can knowing make? Well, the cynical me says that it keeps those of us dealing with collateral damage, such as higher prices, pacified, because no matter how bad it gets here, it’s worse elsewhere.

Still, all day, every day, we are forced to confront and be saddened by events that a couple of hundred years ago we would never have heard of until long after those events were over.

If I sounds uncompassionate, it’s because I have my own mission (not one I chose, but one that was thrust on me because of my grief writing), succoring those reeling from the death of a spouse. Just yesterday, a woman contacted me because so much of what I have written about grief over the loss of someone intrinsic to our lives struck a chord with her. In this case, it was my saying that all grief is not the same because all losses are not the same. She’s been dealing with the typical non-support and dismissiveness we all had to deal with, such as the loss of a spouse being compared to the loss of a pet. (I’m not getting into this discussion again. I know people deal with grief for any number of losses, but the truth is, if a pet dies, it doesn’t leave you with a reduced income and three young children to raise by yourself as well as the loss of your sense of identity, the exile from your coupled friends and dozens of other horrendous changes to your life, any one of which would be occasion for grief.)

If it weren’t for modern means of communication, I wouldn’t hear from these grieving people, but I do. And it’s personal because they contact me specifically. Is their sorrow any worse than the sorrow of someone interviewed on television? Truthfully, I don’t know. As with much of life, I have no answers, just one heck of a lot of questions.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if we’re equipped to handle all the news that’s being fed to us.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

4 Responses to “Handling the News”

  1. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    I’ve long been convinced that being constantly bombarded by bad news (and the media seem to feel it’s only bad news that’s sensational enough to generate revenue for them) is contributing to our mental health problems. For me, it’s a combination of knowing about the world’s suffering/devastation/hatred, and feeling helpless to change it, that causes so much stress. But would I prefer to not know about it?

    Given the choice, I want people to know I see what’s happening to them. That at least they aren’t alone. Even if I can’t do anything to alleviate the cause of their pain, I care. I can donate however little or much that I can afford, to support humanitarian aid; I can spread the word so others can do the same because every drop in the bucket, however small, contributes to filling it; I can pray for their strength and courage and peace of mind amid their chaos. If I didn’t know of the situation, I wouldn’t be able to do any of those things.

    Worldwide instant communication is both a curse and a blessings, and I don’t think the world has totally adjusted to it. I remember as 9-11 unfolded, how I stared at the television in horror, hour after hour, often in tears, as the same scenes replayed over and over. Right now it’s Putin’s war. It dominates every newscast and talk show. While caring for others, I believe I have to safeguard my own mental health. Seeing the plight of the Ukrainian people, watching it hour after hour, breaks my heart, so I steel myself to turn off the TV. If I listen to the news just once a day I still find out what’s happening without subjecting my mind to a barrage of devastating information. It’s not a complete solution, but it helps.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It sounds as if you’ve reached a good middle ground. To know what’s going on without it feeding your sorrows, to do what you can, and then live your own life.

  2. Estragon Says:

    You may have heard the cliche (or maybe axiom) “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic”. I consider it a responsibility as a citizen of the world to know about the million deaths, and the history and context of those deaths. I process it in intellectual terms though, literally in a different part of my brain than I process the death of someone close. Even when the story includes personal details, it’s still a sort of abstraction, subject to the application of rational thought.

    The “close” news is different. I process that more viscerally, as I suspect most other people do. We have a pretty small capacity for close news, probably about what one might find in a small village of say a few hundred people. We just don’t have the bandwidth for more than that. There’s a lot of spare capacity in our rational brains, but not so much in our lizard brains.

    When it comes to grief, the bandwidth probably shrinks much further. In my own journey, I’ve had a burning need to understand it rationally, but a much more limited capacity to absorb the closer news.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I thought about your comment when I watched the news today. I turned off the “empathetic” part of my brain and just paid attention to the overview without getting involved emotionally. It helped.

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