Headlines on My Mind

I like to read the international news in the morning. It is part of my ritual, after shaking the vestiges of dreams from my groggy head, making breakfast, and pouring a cup of coffee. I sit in front of my computer and check out Aljazeera, BBC, CNN, and any other sites that promise gripping stories on current events. I must admit that part of my motivation, at least subconsciously, is the egotistic desire to be “informed” so I can hold academic conversations with my peers, but I swear that is only part of the reason why. Mostly I read the news because I want to know—I need to know—what is going on with my fellow people, their successes and problems alike.

Unfortunately the bad stories—the unhappy ones— generally make the most sensational news (and for some reason we need our news to be sensational). This is exacerbated when reading the international news, where only a few stories are picked from each region of the world, thus amalgamating into a list of thoroughly depressing headlines. It is not necessarily bad, but it is a fact; if you are looking for an uplifting way to start your morning there are plenty of news sites that specialize in collecting uplifting stories (they were created expressly to remedy this problem). For me, the worst part is not necessarily how depressing the specific stories are, but what deeper underlying problems these stories are indicative of. Another car bombing in the Middle East is evidence of the instability of the region, the terrible non-solution that is the current Israel-Palestine state, and our general inability as a species to tolerate other religions. An outbreak of a deadly epidemic in Africa shows the disparity between first and third world countries and how far an entire continent is from being able to provide its people with basic levels of health and safety. An oil spill or polluted river is a further reminder of how poorly we have cared for our planet.

I read the news and I want to do something. I want to right all the wrongs and fix all the problems so that those bad news stories go away. I want to help every suffering face and heal every wounded body in the often gruesome pictures that accompany these stories. This is, I believe, a positive consequence of stuffing the news feed with stories of calamity and injustice: it reminds everyone of how many problems there are in the world and inspires those of us that can help to actually do it. That is the only good reason for learning about such horrors as war, famine, abuse, and the like.

Of course the step from inspiration to action is a big one. It is easy to get worked up, to stir the fire in your belly, make yourself into a passionate champion for injustice; but it is far more difficult to convert that feeling into practical action. This difficulty is increased tenfold when you are faced with that mortal enemy of productivity: choices. The spread of international news is like a gruesome buffet of injustice: platter after platter of humanity’s worst problems steaming away. How to choose which ones to go for first? How to decide which is most deserving of your attention? Is it possible to get through them all?

Being able to choose which of the world’s woes you want to rectify is inherently a beautiful dilemma, because choice implies freedom. If you can choose which injustice to fight, it is because you are not directly involved in any of them. Syrian refugees do not have the luxury of deciding to combat climate change. Farmers in poor countries spend all their energy just to put food on their tables—they have no time or energy for promoting freedom of the press in China. It is an extraordinary privilege to be able to look at injustice from the outside; and an enormous responsibility.

But how far does this responsibility extend? Certainly there is no practical way that anyone can attack all the injustice in the world, and even to tackle multiple problems is to dispel your energy and diminish your positive effect on each cause. So then does it only make sense to champion one cause? If so, how do you choose? Who can look at the roulette wheel of international news and simply spin it, relegated to accepting whatever number comes up? Who can simply put their finger down on one issue and claim it as their mission, willingly ignoring the other deserving causes all around it?

There is no right answer, at least not for everyone. For some the answer is easy: they may not be directly involved in the problems of the world, but they have a direct connection or a personal stake in the matter—an involved parent, or friend, or an empathetic reason to care. It is impossible to objectively qualify the importance of any issue, but personal importance is entirely different; it is substantial. If you have one fiery passion that burns hotter than any other, making the choice between causes is not so difficult. For others—many of us—we may not have problems as big or sensational as those read about on the front pages of CNN, but we have lives complicated enough that championing the cause of someone else (far away) is unrealistic. I believe we all have some responsibility when it comes to helping our fellow humans, but I do not deny that helping yourself must be the first priority.

I can hardly blame those people who read the news with objective disinterest or even those people that stay away from the international headlines altogether—it is hard to fault someone from fleeing from the hardships of the world when they doubtlessly have problems of their own to attend to. I admit there is nothing quite worse than being aware of atrocities around you and being helpless to do anything about them. Ignorance is bliss, is it not? But if you, like me, are unable to read the news without becoming righteously inspired, then ignorance is not an option. It is too late for that; it is the blessing and the curse of the technological age we live in that the wonders and the woes of the world are instantly accessible to us. You must find a way to reconcile your passion with practicality, to balance your work with your wellbeing, and to help humanity without neglecting yourself and those around you.

Reading the news every morning is motivational to me—it wakes me up more than the cup of coffee. It can be saddening, but I refuse to let it depress me. Instead I let it inspire me to be productive, to be of service to my fellow humans, and to be grateful for all the good fortune in my life, both big and small. I am a lover of humanity and cannot help but revel in good stories of humanity, no matter how many bad ones there are. And I love that as a human I have the capacity for optimism: that I can hope for a day when I wake up and read a long list of nothing but happy headlines.

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