Why Negative News Is Stealing My Empathy

man-hands-reading-boy

Do I really need to know every bad thing that happens in the world? Do I gain something by being more “aware?”

I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure.

This year has brought so many terrible things into the public conscious. Racially motivated shootings. Terrorist attacks. Military coups.

When the first mass-shooting happened this year, I was outraged. I read articles. I had conversations with friends and family. But then another shooting happened. And then another. Then a bombing. So many things happened so quickly that I couldn’t keep up.

“Didn’t I just get emotionally wrapped up in [the previous thing] … and now this?!”

It seems that now, more than any time in history, we can be easily informed when horrific things happen. News no longer takes days or hours – it takes minutes or seconds, and often is even seen live as it unfolds.

And bad news sells. Whether it’s 24-hour news networks, newspapers, or even blogs, everyone is trying to get the most readers so that they can sell more ads.

Let’s not forget that news outlets and websites are businesses. Their main purpose is not to inform us, it’s to convert us into advertising revenue.

People say that you should consume the news so that you “become more informed,” but when is enough, enough? How many murders, thefts, or kidnappings do I need to hear about before I can count myself as “informed?”

It all just seems so arbitrary.

I’m being told I should be upset and angry, but it seems I should only be upset and angry at the news stories that make headlines. What about the 5-second story where a woman is raped or a child is abused by an alcoholic parent?  Who chooses what will be important to the public and what won’t?

As I’ve become hyper-aware of what is going on in the world, it seems I’m now left to one response: I’m tired. Seeing all of these things happen has drained me of my frustration and empathy.  There’s only so much I can do – so much I can feel without becoming numb. Jumping from one event to another just isn’t good for me.

Aside from being drained, I’ve even seen the effects on my outlook on life. Even though statistically, the world has become safer and healthier than ever (link), I have started to believe it’s getting worse. Even though amazing things happen every day, I never hear about them.

We’ve passed over the threshold of being “aware,” and have crossed over to the realm of perpetual pessimism and outrage.

There has to be another way. I look at friends who choose not to follow the news and to not be on social media. They don’t feel out of the loop (how many mass murders do you talk about at the office water cooler?). They’re really “uninformed,” but they actually seem happier.

I think it’s time for a change. While it’d probably be much harder to cut out news and social media altogether, I do think we’d benefit from some boundaries in this area. Here’s what this might look like:

  1. Putting local community first. When problems happen in other states or even other countries, our issues seem less immediate and less glamorous. As someone who has done several “missions” trips, it’s often easier to help with problems when they are far away. They’re easier to grasp. They don’t require me to change how I live. While I think helping in other places  is necessary at times, I think it’s often best to prioritize issues what is immediately around you: your family, your friends, your neighborhood, and your city. 
  2. Restricting news intake and social media use. Choose not to open the app or click on the headline. Choose selective ignorance! Remember, it’s not practical to know absolutely everything that goes on in the world. 
  3. Offsetting negative news consumption by reading positive news. Here’s a list of websites focused on good news.

What could we change by turning off the network and digital news more often? What if we set some boundaries on what we consume? Could it improve our happiness and restore our empathy? I think so.

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How I Came To See Atheism As a Natural Part Of Spiritual Growth

New BORN !!! by Mustafa Öztürk on 500px.com

‘Atheists are typically selfish, angry, and immoral people. They don’t realize that, deep down, they’re miserable because their false beliefs have given them no basis for meaning in life. Even so, they pose both an external and an ideological threat to Christianity.’

This was the common narrative that I held through most of my life. Even after I began to meet actual atheists and see that I was wrong, I still held on to parts of the story in the back of my mind. Maybe atheism wasn’t bad per se, but it was still dangerous and something we should help people avoid.

The remnant of my beliefs would finally be challenged when I was introduced to a concept called Stage Theory.

Formulated by author and psychologist M. Scott Peck, Stage Theory posits that healthy individuals tend to go through four broad stages of spiritual growth: chaotic, formal, skeptic, and mystic.

Peck began to formulate the foundations for what would become Stage Theory when he began to notice the strange patterns of growth with his religious and nonreligious clients:

If people who were religious came to me in pain and trouble, and if they became engaged in the therapeutic process, so as to go the whole route, they frequently left therapy as atheists, agnostics, or at least skeptics. On the other hand, if atheists, agnostics, or skeptics came to me in pain or difficulty and became fully engaged, they frequently left therapy as deeply religious people. Same therapy, same therapist, successful but utterly different outcomes from a religious point of view. Again it didn’t compute–until I realized that we are not all in the same place spiritually. (Peck – The Different Drum, p188)

As this theory has been such a benefit to me, I will quickly outline and summarize it for you:

– – –

Stage I: Chaotic, Antisocial
Ego-driven, this group lacks basic morals and typically manipulates situations to get what they want.

In healthy groups, this Stage is the equivalent of babies or toddlers. There is obviously no expectation for them to have moral grounding; society is content to give them the strictest possible boundaries.

In unhealthy groups, adults who have never progressed forward or have otherwise fallen back can end up in this stage. If they are particularly undisciplined, they will often end up in a social institution like prison. If they are disciplined enough, they can leverage their manipulative powers to gain high status and are often preachers, politicians, and board room executives.

Stage II: Formal, Institutional
As an individual progresses, they now need foundation. They need to be given rules and to be taught that the world does not revolve around them. In steps Stage II. Aside from offering clear rules and boundaries, Stage II also teaches morality. All of these provisions combined offer the individual a sense of certainty along with security and stability. 

In healthy groups, Stage II is often represented by the parent-child dynamic. Parents set up rules and boundaries for their kids which help teach them how to be functioning members of society. Outside of this dynamic, Stage II often takes place in highly structured organizations such as churches or the military.

In unhealthy groups, Stage II is represented by “fundamentalism.” Fundamentalists are individuals who are so addicted to the laws of their system that their actions often conflict with the spirit behind those same laws.

While Stage II offers a good foundation for living, it does come with some inherent downsides:

  • It is often legalistic and hypocritical
  • It is threatened by anyone who thinks differently
  • It is insecure and is constantly seeking to convert people to its beliefs
  • It doesn’t naturally allow for discussion about the “why” behind rules
  • It wants security because it is so afraid of mystery
  • It is threatened by new forms and updates to existing beliefs

Stage III: Skeptic, Seeker
Seeing the downsides of Stage II, the individual begins to question if there is more to life. They begin a new journey that involves taking in new information and trying out new experiences. This may often involve testing the rules from their previous Stage to see how valid they really were. Inevitably, the individual will see areas where they believe their authority figures were wrong. 

Consider the scenario of a Stage II parent telling a Stage III teen that “all drugs are bad because addictions are bad.” The teen may have accepted this truth earlier in life, but as they seek more information (e.g., they read about drugs and learn that they’re are not all equally bad for the body) and compare it with their experience (e.g., they may have friends who do certain drugs and don’t seem to suffer many consequences), they may begin to test this rule. In situations where they see their parents as hypocrites (e.g., the parents are themselves addicted to coffee, eating, or working too much), they may quickly reject the “all drugs are bad” rule outright.

As more of these scenarios come into play, the individual moves further into questioning and testing the rules previously given. This is seen by Stage II as “rebellion.”

In healthy groups, Stage III is the equivalent of individuals in their late teens and 20s. They may have grown up following the rules, but over time they began to see that certain rules could be bent or broken. As people who are constantly seeking what’s true, they often end up finding truths that seem contradictory to what they’ve always believed. If they are not able to merge their new information with old teachings, they will reject the old teachings.

This group is typically non-believers (atheists, agnostics, and skeptics). While there are some churches that seem to land in this Stage, it is safe to say that the majority of Christians attempt to avoid this Stage completely.

In unhealthy groups, this stage is the equivalent of anti-theists. Seeing the legitimate problems of Stage II, these individuals seek to help people skip that Stage entirely. Ironically, they themselves become a new Stage II, complete with the exact same downsides: they are legalistic, dogmatic, intolerant, afraid of mystery, and always seeking to convert others.

Stage IV: Mystical, Communal
As the individual sought Truth in Stage III, they begin to find Truth in Stage IV. As it turns out, finding Truth inevitably leads to bigger and more open-ended questions. The individual is finally able to embrace mystery – to hold what they know in the same hand with what they do not. They are no longer afraid and are completely aware of how much they do not know. 

Stage IV sees life holistically and is known for its nuanced approaches to spirituality. It understands the limits of finite and fallible human beings to communicate about a perfect, infinite God. It attempts to transcend current cultures and join a collective community of life. While sounding wishy-washy, Stage IV is full of deep meaning, sought out by contemplation, meditation, reflection, and prayer.

Stage IV also sees rules and boundaries in a whole new light. It sees the spirit behind the rules from Stage II and is now able to understand and apply them properly. 

– – –

Discovering Stage Theory finally allowed me to accept that there are typically seasons of skepticism in healthy spirituality. Instead of trying help people skip that Stage as fast as possible, I was now free to allow them to embrace it.

Stage Theory taught me that Atheism, along with its rationalistic relatives, is in large part a rejection of the unhealthy aspects of Stage II spirituality. It rejects an unloving, rules-based, God. This explained why I had always agreed with atheists in rejecting the same god they did – my God was not a Stage II God. 

Overall, Stage Theory has helped to teach me that it is perfectly fine for people to be in different places spiritually. When I see someone in a different stage than me, I do not need to fight with or “fix” them. I only need to listen to and encourage them. 

What if we decided that all stages – including the atheism of Stage III – have opportunities for good, healthy growth?

How could you begin to accept people more who are in different stages than you?

– – –

M. Scott Peck said far more about Stage Theory than I could dig into here. The section of his book, A Different Drum, which deals with this concept is available online for free (link).

For a quick and easily shareable explanation of Stage Theory, I would also recommend this YouTube Video.

The Wisdom Of Slowing Down

Dirt Track Racing

How much time do we really save by rushing?

It was March of 2013, and I had finally had enough. The exact same scenario was being repeated over and over again: after speeding down a highway and passing many slow cars, I would take an exit and hit a red light, where all of the slow cars would catch up to me.

All of my “assertive driving” and “skilled maneuvering” was just not paying off. People going both slow and fast reached their destination in a similar amount of time.

I decided to do some research on just how much time I actually saved by speeding. Here are two charts that break it down:

Chart #1 – How long does it take to go 10 miles?

Miles MPH Time (in mins & secs)
10 55 10:55
10 65 9:14
10 70 8:34
10 75 8:00

Chart #2 – Time saved every 10 miles:

65 instead of 55 1:41
75 instead of 65 1:14
75 instead of 55 2:55

By going 10 mph over the speed limit I had gained a whopping 1 minute and 15 seconds. Even if I got crazy and went 20 mph over the speed limit, I wouldn’t even have saved a full 3 minutes off of my time!

And what was I getting in return for those extra 1-3 minutes?

  • More stress and frustration
  • Increased chances of causing or being in a car crash
  • Increased chances of getting a ticket
  • Paying more for gas

The act of rushing didn’t make sense in driving, and it was soon clear that it didn’t make sense in other areas either.

I thought about going to the grocery store. I would watch a car drive around trying to find a spot that would save them less than 10 seconds of walking.

I remembered a day when I went to the park. I was experimenting with running as fast and as far as I could. When I started, I passed this older guy who was slowly power walking. “Move aside, old man,” I joked to myself. But sure enough, when I was done sprinting and was doubled over gasping for breath, that same guy passed me. I ran faster than he did, but his slow and steady pace would’ve beaten me.

I’ve come to believe that rushing in any area of life will produce similar results: you use up more energy but don’t really make it to your destination much faster.

Several years ago I was at a retreat and they offered these 4 tips to slow down:

1) Deliberately choose life situations that cause you to slow down and wait.

  • Drive in the slow lane – even if it’s at or below the speed limit
  • Park farther away at work and at the store
  • Let people ahead of you 

2) Do the tasks you normally do, but do them more slowly

  • Take your time walking to your car
  • Take your lunch break
  • Eat more deliberately

3) Speak less & listen more.

  • Resist the urge to share everything you want
  • Ask clarifying questions to help the other person feel heard
  • Focus on giving to them instead of trying to receive

4) Pursue periods of solitude.

  • Go to a place by yourself and do nothing for a time

What if we recognized just how little time we save by rushing and made a conscious decision to slow down in the future?

Why You Can’t Share Your Ideas With Just Anyone

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Lightbulb! By Matthew Wynn. CC2.0

Last year I became interested in buying a rental property and becoming a landlord. I was full of excitement and decided to share my great idea with my close friends and family. Their response was the opposite of what I was hoping for:

  • “I know a friend who’s a landlord and his tenants trashed the place!”
  • “I’ve heard it’s hard to get renters in this economy. You’ll probably have to pay the mortgage yourself.”
  • “You know you’ll have to keep track of everything, right? And think about how complicated the taxes will be!”

If my idea was a small fire, those around me snuffed it out.

In my discouragement, I wrote down a list of pros and cons and presented it to my friend, David. David was not only my original inspiration to by a rental property, he was always a great encourager. He knew how to throw kindling on ideas. This made him a fantastic person to talk with.

We sat in a Starbucks, and David looked at my list. One-by-one he addressed every con. He then paused and sat back.

“John, you can do this if you want. If you go for it, you’ll do great.”

It was as if David had more confidence in me that I had in myself. He believed that I could achieve whatever I wanted. He wasn’t ignorant – he knew I would face problems – he just trusted that I would figure everything out.  

I realized I had made a mistake. I wished I had not shared my idea with anyone and everyone. David agreed: sharing your ideas too quickly can be dangerous. Ideas are like trees. They grow up to be strong and nearly immovable, but they start out as a single stem.

David also cautioned me that a lot of people are not in the right place to share constructive advice. Most people are risk-averse and frequently struggle with pessimism. David quoted a real estate mogul whose book we had both been reading:

“Everyone can tell you the risk. An entrepreneur can see the reward.” – Robert Kiyosaki

Coming out of that experience, here are three ways I learned to keep your ideas from getting crushed:

  1. Take action on your ideas before sharing them. When you share ideas that are still in their infancy, they can be easily suffocated. Doing something about your ideas first will help cement them.
  2. Don’t share your ideas with just anyone. Ideally, share your ideas with someone who has already succeeded in the area that you want to succeed in. If that’s not possible, share your ideas with people who are positive and take risks. They will help you overcome your obstacles instead of telling you why you should give up.
  3. Use Naiveté. Don’t research so much when you first come up with an idea. While other people can easily discourage you, you might also discourage yourself by finding out too much about the road ahead. Only research enough to figure out how to get past what is directly in front of you.

If you find yourself in a position where other people are sharing their ideas with you, here are three strategies to help without discouraging them:

  1. Share your bad experiences as barriers that can be overcome. It’s natural to warn those around us if we see them headed down a hard path. Some people were worried for me because they had friends who tried to be landlords and went though a lot of problems. Instead of communicating, “don’t do this because it might be hard,” they could’ve said, “we know someone who has a lot of experience in this area and can tell you what to avoid!” See the difference?  
  2. Remember that everyone is different. Others will not necessarily fail or succeed where we have. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Have more confidence in other people than they have in themselves. My friend David still does this so well that it shocks me every time. His confidence helps step in and shoulder the weight while my confidence is still growing. 

In what areas of life have you tried to share an idea with someone only to be discouraged?

Where have you been the naysayer? Where have you discouraged people from taking action because of your own experiences?

What could your life look like if you were constantly taking action and encouraging others?