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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More thoughts about change - but what's news about that?

(I've actually had this post in draft for awhile, but I keep finding reasons to put it on hold. But now is probably as good a time as any to run with it, as a follow-up of sorts to my recent Ten on Tuesday post about how the world has changed, and as a self-developed Hump Day Hmm, since vacation plans are causing me to miss one of Julie's.)

My mother-in-law tells us that she rarely reads or listens to the news, because it's "just too depressing." I understand the sentiment, but I don't agree with the action. I think that even if you don't like what's going on, it's important to know about it.

What's going on these days is enough to rock anyone's world, and not in a good way.

Halfway across the globe, our country's military has been involved in a conflict for five years - one that they were sent into under false pretenses, and where their continuing presence seems to make less and less sense, although to some extent it may be self-justifying by the potential risks of removal. This action has costs, not limited to the financial ones of keeping the operations going, and money spent in the Middle East can't be available for our ongoing issues here at home, where affording daily life becomes a bigger challenge all the time.

The price of gas has already passed $4 per gallon here in California, and the prices of many of our other daily needs are climbing right along with it. We're anxious about keeping the work and income to pay for those needs, and about the debt if we don't have the income - since we still need these things anyway.

When day-to-life becomes more and more of a challenge, it can get out of control, and for some people it doesn't even seem to matter much anymore. So far this year, it's seemed like every other day has brought another story of a murder in Los Angeles, many of them gang-related and not confined to particular geographic areas, which can make even those who wouldn't normally consider themselves at risk afraid to leave the house. Meanwhile, they may be afraid of losing the house in the first place.

Trusting anyone's word is scary. Pessimism is easy. It's not hard to understand why people might find it all too depressing and tune it out.

In our suburb, I walk my dog through the comfortable subdivision a few blocks from our apartment, and I wonder. I wonder about the people in those large houses, with their SUVs parked outside of their two- and three-car garages. I wonder if they've tuned out too, and if they are as sheltered, complacent, and self-satisfied as their homes make them appear. I wonder if behind those facades, people are sure of themselves - happy families all alike - or if they are part of unhappy families, each unhappy in its own way. I wonder if they've made unspoken, perhaps unconscious bargains to keep things together, or if they've chosen not to think too much about it, because it could be too depressing.

I notice that there don't seem to be as many "for sale" signs in the neighborhood as there were a few months ago, but the ones that I do see stay up for a long time. I wonder if people have opted out of the real-estate games, or have given up on trying to sell houses because they can't get enough of a price to pay off their mortgages. I wonder if some of the people in those houses can afford them now, or if they ever could in the first place. I wonder how much some of them really worry about that, or if they have faith that things will work out somehow, or if they don't even think about whether there's a problem - because thinking about the news is just too depressing.

I've said before that in my opinion, pessimism is easier than optimism, and that optimism requires some amount of denial - but I've been thinking about that more and more since I originally wrote it, and I have to wonder whether optimism is a choice not of denial, but of picking up and going on in spite of the circumstances. It may be a recognition that the news is just the news. Getting depressed over it is one possible reaction, but it's not a necessary one, and it's rarely a helpful one either.

What's going on these days is enough to rock anyone's world. Uncertainty is a pretty certain thing in modern life, and things seem to be unraveling all around. And yet, for some reason, I haven't totally given over to my pessimistic streak yet. I'm still keeping up with the news. It's important to know what's going on, even if you don't necessarily like it.

6 comments:

  1. I think about all of this too and watch ppl around me and wonder how they manage or how close someone is to the brink. The new family in the nice house across the street look fine until I met them and find out that they can't afford to get their second car fixed, she is home by herself ALL day with three kids and he is scraping it together at a tire store and are renting and don't know if they could ever afford to buy. Oh.

    Things are just so bad right now - something new seems to topple everyday, in a very slow domino affect. Floods = no corn = no ethanol or no corn = no food for chickens, cows = even higher prices on meat and corn. Floods = major environmental damage from pesticides in water = total devastation to homes, water sources, everything.

    But I too stick with the news. Maybe I don't want to know the value of my house right now but I need to be informed with the daily news, I read through MSNBC before I do anything every morning. And then my denial takes the form of optimism and say to myself in my own little matra "thistooshallpassthistooshallpassthistooshallpass..."

    Great post.

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  2. Caroline - Thanks. I sat on this one for awhile before I published it, but it was inspired a lot by the kind of thing you mentioned at the beginning of your comment. You just never know from appearances how things really are.

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  3. I finally figured out that when people say the news is too depressing what they sometimes really mean---what I mean---is that it's always SO dreadful, because that's sensational.

    TV News has not figured out that we are, in large, Breaking News Catastrophe Fatigued.

    They haven't figured out how to tell the whole story or all of the representative stories.

    They only show floodwaters sweeping away farmhouses, and don't talk to survivors and people helping. They don't give information about how to help.

    Or not enough.

    We do need to know. I agree.

    But we need to know the right information, too, and in the right way, too, and MSM is failing in that.

    I read the Web a lot more because I love the ability to free flow through links.

    I'm glad I know about the flooding devastation in the Midwest because it led me to ask: what can I do?

    And that garnered the answer, with a link, to a site, to help.

    How differently that made me feel about the story.

    Great post!

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  4. Julie - Thanks! I think you nailed it with the news' emphasis on sensation; it seems like all the news is bad because that's all that gets reported. The MSM would respond that they're reporting what people want to know about. But clearly they haven't really asked people about that, or they'd know we really do want the other sides of the story too.

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  5. I always think of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 when I hear about people tuning out the news because it is too depressing. Sometimes I do that, I admit, although I try not to stay completely in the dark. I don't watch the TV news at all unless something big is happening--the sensationalism is a big turn off to me. I don't read the newspapers (I do read them online though) for a number of reasons, some silly and some more valid. I get my news online and from the radio mostly. And my moments of wanting to avoid depression never last long.

    As for pessimism versus optimism: I have to be optimistic. If I start to tread down the darker road, I start to feel helpless and apathetic. I cease to want to do anything at all. If I have hope, I am more likely to do something for the better, whether it be on a small or big scale. I like to think I am more of a realist in that I see what is going on around me. I question it, roll it around in my head, and decide what to do with it. Sometimes the pessimist in me wins out, but I much prefer the optimistic me. I'm a much happier person when I have hope--when I can look at a hardship as a challenge rather than a rut I may never get out of.

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  6. Literary Feline - I get what you're saying about preferring yourself as an optimist. I think of myself as a realist too, mostly, and having struggled with depression I know what you're describing in "the darker road" - but having spent a lot of time there, sometimes I do still find it easier. Positivity is a choice for me, and one I'm trying to make more often.

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