Once again, all eyes are on bad news. Toxic chemicals, environmental terrors and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have thrown gas on the worlds’ anxiety fires. The sub-text of too much media information seems to be: Welcome to our hand-basket. This is life in hell. That’s not how I see it. Everywhere I look I see a wonderful world.
Why are horror stories the bread and butter of the 24-hour news mill? Because bad news is an attention grabber. Good news goes on the back page. These stories should be published. If they weren’t, we’d be in the dark about dangerous situations and a lot worse off than we are. Good journalism makes us safer. We must know about the oil spill, about chemical toxins, cancer risks and personal safety issues.
And then, we must turn the TV, radio and computer off and protect ourselves from too much toxic information. When people ingest non-stop mental diets of anxiety-provoking information, it creates terror, depression, aggression, hopelessness and despair.
I had coffee with a young woman expecting her second baby. She lives nowhere near the oil spill, but she’s terrified of it. She said something that nearly broke my heart: “I’m so scared of the world my children are being born into. It makes me wonder if we should even have children anymore. I love them so much, I don’t want them to have to live with the devastation we’ve caused.”
I took her hands and said, “Look around your world. The one you actually live in, not the one on the news. Where’s this devastation? What are you scared of, right here, right now?”
She glanced up the tree-lined block and around the coffee shop and answered, “Well, it’s not right here but it’s out there…it’s out there.”
“Out where?” I asked.
“In New Orleans and Mexico, of course. In the Middle East and Haiti and in the chemicals polluting our air, oceans and lungs. The devastation is everywhere.” She was visibly shaken up and clutched her belly, as if protecting her baby from hearing.
“Do you go to those places often? Is that where you live?” I asked.
“No, but any informed person knows about them. They’re on the news every day.” At this point, she probably thought I live with my head in the sand and wondered just how big an idiot I am.
“But your world is safe, right? There’s no devastation in your home, neighborhood, job or any of the places you hang out? Your children will grow up in a safe place?” I continued.
“Well, of course, we’re safe right here but still, there’s nothing I can do to prevent any of this. We’re powerless. My children will grow up in a world where anything could happen.”
“Exactly, honey. That’s all we’ve ever done. Every human ever born has grown up in a world where anything could happen. Throughout history, there have always been children living in actual devastation. You and your children, however, are fortunate. Nothing bad is happening right here. You’re not powerless. Your children, like all children ever born will learn to live in the world as it is now and they’ll be glad they’re alive.”
My young friend was quiet for a long time, then asked, “So what should I do? I feel so scared for them.”
In addition to suggesting she make an appointment with her therapist, I gave her the advice I give anyone trying to change a bad situation, habit or behavior to a good one: Nip it and Flip it.
Nip it – Eliminate “the bad.” Flip it – Support “the good.”
In my friend’s situation, “the bad” was her serious fear about the state of the world. I told her, “ Eliminate the toxic information making you so afraid. Stop watching the news. You don’t work on the front line of these catastrophes so you don’t need minute-by-minute updates. Take a tech-break and stop the flow of frightening information streaming into your home and mind.”
“And flip it?” She asked. “How do I put a happy spin on this?”
“When you’re afraid of the dark, turn on the light. Instead of focusing on all the bad stuff in the world, flip your attention to the good stuff. Start a new flow of information that’s positive and hope inducing instead of negative and fear inducing. Focus on ways we’re making the world a healthier, cleaner, better place; on people cleaning up the oil spill, running greener factories, and helping people live better. There’s a whole lot more good in the world than bad, more kindness than hostility, more beauty than pollution. They just don’t make the headlines.”
No one is powerless. Even if we live smack dab in the middle of devastation, we can make our personal corner of the world, a clean well-lighted place. When you choose an active path to see the light instead of the dark, to raise your children in a good world instead of a scary one and work towards making things healthier, happier, greener, kinder and more peaceful, you’re powerful. In fact, in a child’s world, no one is more powerful than his parents.
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