Dear Abbey,

When I turn on the TV, it feels unbearable to watch. I want to know what’s happening in the world, but media sources seem toxic to me. I’m sure I’m not alone in my emotional regard for the many things happening around us—political or social— that impact us and those we love. How can a Buddhist stay informed without feeling so overwhelmed?

Signed,
Confused

Dear Confused,

I agree that it is important to know what is happening in the world and that we are presented with vast possibilities for becoming informed. I also feel we can be selective about what is useful and relevant. Think about this as Wise Discrimination Practice.

In the early days of round-the-clock cable news, I was watching the coverage of a big hurricane threatening the Florida coast. As the coverage went to a commercial break, the newsreader said, in an urgent voice, “Stay tuned to this channel for ongoing coverage of the hurricane!” In that moment I thought, “Wait a minute! What am I doing? I am in California. I don’t even know people in Florida. And I cannot stop the hurricane. I cannot do anything at all except become anxious. This is not good for me.” I turned off the set.

I do have a TV. I like watching tennis matches and the World Series and the Olympics and the Super Bowl, and these days I am watching news coverage of the revolutionary movements in the Middle East because I think these may be thrilling days in world history. I appreciate the role that social media like Facebook and Twitter—and even TV—may have in building a more open and democratic world.

I like to think that I am using a combination of Wise Speech (listening to speech I trust to be true) and Wise Action (not listening incessantly even though the news is often presented, quite purposefully, as if it were theater) so that I don’t become overwhelmed by the unbearable pain I feel (and expect to feel) when I see real people, not actors, being hurt.

“Unbearable” would not serve us as individuals, or anyone else. We do not want to be overloaded into confusion. We want to understand what is happening so our responses, in whatever way we can make our views known, lead to less suffering.

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