I spent the month of May not reading any news. I spent 31 days without knowing what was going on in the world, the latest outrage or celebrity gossip. Never in my adult life have I felt such peace.
My church called for a collective digital fast. They outlined various options but as an all-or-nothing type, I opted for the most dramatic. As a family, we cut out all screens that were not used for utility (banking/weather) or direct communication. When I deleted all social media and the internet browser from my phone, I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that I was also cutting ties with the constant stream of bad news. After a month of news radio silence, I’m not going back.
Y’all we were not designed to process every trauma that happens on our planet. It’s too much for our brains and souls to handle. The world isn’t getting more dangerous, we just are more informed. For centuries, the only trauma we were aware of was when the farm down the road caught fire. And we were able to do something about it! The families in the surrounding area would rush over to put out the fire and pull resources to help rebuild. The only time international news was important to the average person was if their country was at war.
Emergency situations give us a jolt of adrenaline to empower us to act toward the solution. That’s very useful if you are being chased by a pack of wolves. Now we hear every grisly detail of a drive-by that happened in a state 1,500 miles away. As they say, “If it bleeds it leads.” As we take in tragedy after tragedy, our brains respond every time as if real wolves are on our heels. The problem is, there is nothing we can do about 99% of the blood barrage that comes across our newsfeed. There is nowhere for our emergency energy to go. So we sit in a constant twitchy state of adrenaline-hyped anxiety, or, to protect ourselves, we create a thick protective callous around our hearts, numbing ourselves to the impact of suffering when we finally do have the opportunity to do something.
There is nothing I can do about the escalating tensions with China and I don’t have the power to prevent natural disasters. There is absolutely no reason for me to spend my days drinking in every terrible detail of the awful things that happen in our world.
All the unnecessary gory/scary/divisive details we consume are causing serious harm to our mental health. That being said, I believe we can be aware without being obsessed. I have subscribed to a couple email news updates that are intentionally short and to the point. (As a politically homeless individual, I particularly like The Flip Side .) I get the basics and if I can’t do anything about it, I leave it in God’s hands. (Yes yes yes, informed voting, I’m not talking about candidate research here.)
My favorite author, JRR Tolkien fought in the First World War and lived through the Second. He certainly understood the importance of large-scale international affairs. This is what he said to say about it,
“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” J.R.R. Tolkien
This is how I will be engaging “the tides of the world” from here out. Can I do something about a car accident in Chicago? No. I won’t be reading that article then. Instead, I will focus on the areas where I can make a difference.
For example, I am deeply concerned about the state of our environment – our air, water, forest, and creatures. I find myself feeling angry when I see invasive plants being sold in big box stores and planted in people’s front yards. Alas, I can’t legally chop down every Bradford Pear tree I see and I don’t have the money to buy up and protect all the Old Growth Forests.
Instead, I am stewarding the 10th of an acre I do have authority over. I have been pulling out all the international plants that came with my house and replacing them with the natives. There are an abundance of beautiful plants that were designed/created/evolved to thrive in your area without needing to be watered, fertilized, or doused in pesticides. I have found native plants for my yard that absolutely love hard clay soil, scorching summers, and freezing winters. I am in the process of cultivating a 40×6-foot strip of my backyard into a native wildflower meadow. My goal is to have it certified as a native wildlife habitat next spring.
Sometimes the 10th of an acre my home sits on feels so small in the grand scheme of things. What does my little backyard amount to anyways? But then something happened that I will always think about as I care for the land I have been given. (Calling my yard “my land” has really made me take my responsibility to care for it more seriously.)
Earlier this spring, my children and I had been watching a family of Killdeer that lived on the hill behind our house. Killdeer are ground nesters and the little family consisted of two parent birds and 5 babies. Unfortunately when the HOA sent the mowers out, two of the babies did not make it. I saw it happen and didn’t have time to stop it. The shaken birds took shelter in my scraggy start of a meadow and stayed there until the babies were old enough to leave.
Maybe my meadow won’t stop the decline of the Killdeer populations, but it gave refuge to one little family. Perhaps they will return next year knowing there is one tiny place they can be safe in a city growing faster than the developers can keep up with.
Backyard conservation is just one small example (and quite frankly one I can write about without stirring controversy and detracting from the message I am trying to convey).
I’d like to leave you with a suggestion and a question.
My suggestion is this: if you cannot practically do anything about a news event, don’t read the details of it. Focus on the events that directly impact you or your neighborhood. (I wish there was a local news outlet that ONLY shared local news.)
And my question comes from Tolkien’s quote. How can you practically uproot the evil in the fields that you know? What fields do you have the influence to make a difference in? For me, it is a literal field in my backyard (and some other metaphorical fields I won’t unpack now). Identify where you have power and divert to it the energy you were previously wasting on things you were powerless over. (And plant native plants!)