Per usual, I got up early and prepared a nice morning repast for the two of us. A pot of his favorite tea was steeping when Dharma arrived at my lily pad, right on schedule. "Irwin" you travel around a great deal and interact with humans. Is the world out there as bad as I hear that it is?" he asked. "Well, Sir," I replied, " in my humble opinion, it is. Humans are suffering and there seems to be more division among them than ever before. And, I might add, there doesn't seem to be much to give them hope. If there is good stuff happening, it's not being reported on very much." Dharma scratched his head for a bit and then got a gleeful look on his face. "I know what today's lesson will be. I wasn't sure what we'd talk about until just now. And since you pass on my lesson to your readers each week, maybe this can help them feel better, too. Son, a frog must let his hopes, not his fears, shape his future. Hope is what can propel us all forward when times seem darkest." I knew exactly what he was talking about, but hope can seem like it's in short supply these days. And so Dharma expanded on the idea that that focusing on the positive is what is needed today. here's a synopsis of what my good lesson was all about.
Google recently announced that its Assistant will offer a new feature, "Tell me something good." Things out there in the human world are, apparently, so bad that computers are being programmed to offer good and hopeful news for their owners! News organizations have, for a long time, followed the old edict, "If it bleeds, it leads." Put disturbing stories on the front page and your newspaper will sell. This works, in part, because the human brain is primed to scan the environment looking for danger. This is, of course, done to keep humans safe.
There is, though, a new movement by journalists to promote more good news. It is dubbed "constructive journalism." It involves 'creating stories that are more productive, more forward-looking, more solution-focused,' says media researcher Karen McIntyre of Virginia Commonwealth University. "When people feel depressed and hopeless, they don’t want to engage with the news,” says McIntyre. To back this up, a recent study at the Harvard University School of Public Health shows that reading, watching, or listening to negative news is one of the leading causes of stress among Americans. (Presumably, this would be the same with humans anywhere else, too) Research suggests that people who consume negative news regularly also tend to have less trust in their political leaders, lower evaluation of other people, and communities, and more psychological problems in general.
Constructive journalism isn't the same thing as feel good-news. Feel-good news is meant to inspire positive emotions. While these "warm and fuzzy" stories have their place, certainly, they're not all that is needed. Humans also need a way to digest current events without becoming depressed. Constructive journalism offers a more complete, yet compelling, version of the news...the same news that otherwise might cause depression or stress. Constructive journalism involves several components. In addition to focusing on solutions, it includes reporting on the historical and social contexts of specific news incidents, using reliable data to look at longer-term trends, and avoiding interview tactics that create drama without increasing understanding. Hmmmm. I am begging to see where this is headed!
In addition to improving longevity and health, feeling more positive emotions can lead people to widen their lens of attention and inquiry...both of which are good for better relationships and improved psychological health. Additionally, it is found that constructive journalism can help humans from simply tuning out what's going on in the world around them. "If we incorporate some of this constructive news into our regular media diet, we can mitigate some of the effects of negative news,” says Ms. McIntyre.
Both journalists and readers seem to respond well to constructive journalism. But newspapers thrive on "eyes on the page," and editors may be less interested in constructive journalism if they aren’t convinced it will engage their readers. There is still lots more to learn about constructive journalism and its impact on readers and their mental health. But even though the jury is still out on whether these new models of journalism can increase kindness in the world, Karen McIntyre is encouraged by their success to date. There’s a hunger for this type of news, she argues, which doesn’t replace negative news but augments it. And that's something we can all use!
Dharma closed out our lesson this week by reminding me that hope for a better tomorrow is all we really have. When humans are bombarded every single day with one negative news cycle after another, it begins to break down their sense that all will turn out well in the end. Hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Everyone needs hope, especially humans. Hope gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Hope is what propels us to move forward every day, no matter what difficulties we have. Hope is necessary for survival. Living in fear of the future is not really a life at all.
I'm all for anything that gives us hope. And if constructive journalism can help humans see their news in a clearer, less stressful way, if it can open their minds and broaden their views...then what's not to like? Dharma is always right on point. If negative news is getting you down, there is help...and hope. Begin looking for news sources that offer a better, balanced view of world events. And stay away from those that try to incite strong emotions like fear, rage, and hate. Support constructive journalism. The world needs it now, more than ever.
I invite you back here tomorrow for another (shorter) blog, I promise! Until we meet up again, stay hopeful, no matter what's in the news.