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"Turn Down the News"

by Victor Perton, Chief Optimism Officer, The Centre for Optimism

For decades while in politics, I was fixed into a daily cycle of listening to the news and responding by way of press release and commentary.  While I was able to maintain my optimistic nature in the face of the pessimism of the daily news, it is undoubtedly a cause of pessimism, cynicism and even depression for many people.

As the President of Envision Kindness Dr David Fryburg said “Every day, people are exposed to negative images, stories, and experiences, We know that this exposure is stressful to the viewer—it causes anger, anxiety, depression, and can affect behavior, disconnecting people from one another.

Over the last 50 years, the news has become increasingly negative.  Most newsrooms operate under three principle editorial rules, “if it bleeds it leads,” “Bad News is Good News” and emphasise stories which sow “dissension, discord and disharmony.”  On television news, optimistic news is generally restricted to the fluffy animal story after the weather or during sports news.

The author Pico Iyer wrote, “So why am I an optimist? Partly because I’ve been working in the mainstream media for 35 years now, and I know not to trust it. It’s always a single act of brutality that captures headlines, while a hundred acts of everyday kindness are ignored, and more and more, in the global neighborhood, our “news” is just the equivalent of small-town gossip. We’re living in the age of Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama and more charitable efforts than ever before, but it’ll always be the Las Vegas gunman or the ISIS operative with a knife who knows how to dominate our attention. My optimism comes from a deeper source, though, than simply knowing that what we hear and read isn’t a fair register of what is really happening. As a traveller, I witness everyday people whose lives are much more nuanced and often brighter than our notions of them."

Professor Steven Pinker, Harvard University Professor of Psychology writes,  the "disconnect originates in the nature of news. News is about what happens, not what doesn’t happen, so it features sudden and upsetting events like fires, plant closings, rampage shootings and shark attacks. Most positive developments are not camera-friendly, and they aren’t built in a day. You never see a headline about a country that is not at war, or a city that has not been attacked by terrorists–or the fact that since yesterday, 180,000 people have escaped extreme poverty.  The bad habits of media in turn  ring out the worst in human cognition. Our intuitions about risk are driven not by statistics but by images and stories. People rank tornadoes (which kill dozens of Americans a year) as more dangerous than asthma (which kills thousands), presumably because tornadoes make for better television. It’s easy to see how this cognitive bias–stoked by the news policy “If it bleeds, it leads”–could make people conclude the worst about where the world is heading."

Good advice is to stay aware, read, listen or watch the news maybe once or twice a day rather than every hour, and rely on other sources of information for your viewing and reading.  Look for the good in what you read.  Look for the opportunities.

I recommend people don’t listen to the news early in the morning (unless you need to) and, in particular, people should not use the news as an alarm clock.  Wake up to positive thoughts or silence.  The following quotes give you more evidence and context.

I would also advise reducing your reliance on television, radio and newspaper “news.”  I use Google alerts and newsletter subscriptions to ensure that the positive news I am seeking gets to my inbox and to my attention.

As Raya Bidshahri, Founder & CEO of Awecademy commends, “We can’t let negative headlines and the media shape our perception of ourselves as a species, and the vision we have for the future. As legendary astronomer Carl Sagan said, “For all of our failings, despite our limitations and fallibility, we humans are capable of greatness.” Hollywood likes to paint disproportionately dystopian visions of the world, and while those are possible futures, we can and must also imagine a future of humanity where we live in abundance, prosperity, and transcendence. We can’t expect current innovators and future generations to make this positive vision a reality if they believe our species is doomed for failure. It inspires us to continue to contribute to human progress and feel that we can push humanity forward. It’s absolutely critical that our journalists cover the many challenges, threats, and issues in our world today. But just as we report the significant negative news in the world, we must also continue to highlight humanity’s accomplishments. After all, how can our youth grow up believing they can have a positive impact on the world if the news is suggesting otherwise?”

Experiment: Don’t listen to or read the news till you leave for work.  Try this for one week.  Give your family or housemates permission to share positive stories they read or hear.  Let me know how the experiment goes – would you recommend it to others?

Experiment: Limit your self to listening to or watching the news once a day.  Let me know how the experiment goes – would you recommend it to others?


Jack McCall: Remaining optimistic in our pessimistic times

"I have noticed with the passing of the years that a creeping pessimism seems to be permeating our society. This has been brought on, in no small part, by a national media which consistently presents man at his worst. Sadly, much of the buying public seems to have an insatiable appetite for the gruesome, mysterious and sensational."

 Mike Buchanan, Founder of Positively Leading 

"Limit your access to social media and news: listen to or read it once a day to keep informed and so that you are not constantly bombarded with bad news – switch off your news feeds, talk radio and email alerts."

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