How to Watch the News Without Despair

How to Watch the News Without Despair February 23, 2016

photo by Mike Licht
photo by Mike Licht

Picture this: You take a video camera and microphone out to the street, stop the first 100 people who walk by and ask each one:

What’s the most important thing in your life today?

How many do you suppose would say, “I’m obsessed with the results of the next presidential primary?”

I’m guessing one person out of 100 might say it, and that one is probably a campaign volunteer or a reporter.

As a former political reporter, let me assure you, the news is not about what’s really going on in people’s lives, and it’s not what they really care about.

Because the other 99 people on the street would say things like:

  • My kid forgot his lunch, and I’m rushing to drop it off at his school before I have to be at the office.
  • My mother has a doctor’s appointment today, and I’m afraid her cancer is back.
  • I think my husband is having an affair.
  • I’ve gotta find a way to make more money.
  • Or even: I got engaged last night, and I’m walking on air!

That’s real life. But that’s not news.

Unless you run this person-on-the-street experiment inside the Washington Beltway, you will quickly realize what people care about is not what pundits talk about.




This is what I wish I could tell every person who complains there’s never any good news:

News, by definition, is what’s out of the ordinary.

It’s the stuff that doesn’t happen every day and doesn’t happen to most people.

Thank goodness!

If 100,000 kids in your town get up, go to school, behave reasonably well, come home, do their homework and go to bed, that’s not news.

If someone opens fire in the school, it is.

Because it doesn’t happen every day.

No matter how distressingly often we hear bad news, those events are still out of the ordinary.

Murder, rape, robberies, natural disasters, political overthrows, starvation and epidemics are all out of the ordinary. That’s what makes them news.

Of course, the news collides with people’s real lives somewhere. But it’s rare that you become the news.

For the most part, news is what we watch from a distance.

Yes, it is sometimes heart-breaking and sometimes infuriating to see. Still, I would encourage you to stay engaged in public life, rather than refuse to look because it’s painful.




I want to offer two spiritual practices you can use while watching the news. But first, run another experiment:

Watch the news for a few minutes while thinking, “This is awful; it’s all negative; the world is going to hell in a handbasket.”

You will feel lousy, and everything on the news will seem to support your premise.

Then continue to watch for a few more minutes while thinking, “What an amazing world we live in. People are doing their best, and love is always being expressed, even in the smallest ways.”

You will quickly realize that the tenor of the news is an inside job. The events may not change, but whether you see them as cataclysmic or uplifting is entirely up to you.

It’s a cliché that all the news is bad and negativity sells. I hope you will think more deeply than that.

I know for a fact that reporters and editors try to find bright spots to include in the news, and when they do, readers and listeners are likely to complain about “fluff.” The newsroom can’t win.

A reporter’s job is to keep an eye out for what’s unusual, what’s out of the ordinary, and let you know as much as he or she can find out about it. They won’t always do it perfectly, because they are human, too.




So here are two ways to watch the news without despair:

1. Look for the good.

Remember during 9-11, how the first responders rushed in to help? How people tended to each other on the street? How the whole world, however briefly, seemed awash in love and compassion?

The same happens with every terrifying news event. You’ll see it when you look for it. The people who rush to help, the people who set things aright, the people who step up to lead are always present.

Sometimes to see the good, you have to look at the bigger picture.

For instance, even if you are dismayed by the presidential candidates, you can be grateful for a government that changes hands peacefully and not by military coup or guerilla takedown. You can be grateful you get to express your opinion with a vote.

Watch for the good. See what you can be grateful for.

2. Ask, What is mine to do?

News stories are the pain points of our world.

Whether it’s an earthquake in Central America or a house fire in your town, you might be able to help in some small way.

Or even in a large way. Adopt a child from a starving country. Host a refugee family.

This is not an obligation to make your life even busier. You don’t have to respond to every disaster.

But stay open to your inner guidance. Let the world speak to you. You will find your perfect place of service.

  1. Look for the good, and be grateful when you see it.
  2. Let yourself be called into service to humanity, based on the events around you.

Watch the news in this way, and you will elevate the consciousness of the whole planet.


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