Wherever you are on the political spectrum, turning on the news is unlikely to make you feel anything but bad. Look at what the Democrats are doing. Are the Republicans serious? Even if you’re able to escape partisan reporting, the state of the world is hardly going to cheer you up. Earthquakes. Civil wars. Failed states. Somebody killed an old lady and stole her pension. If you pull up Facebook to see what your friends are up to, you’re more likely to see them arguing over some pointless issue neither of them have any influence over rather than congratulating each other on the new baby.
As Jia Tolentino wrote in late 2016, as she struggled to make sense of all the negativity in the news in the wake of the election:
There is no limit to the amount of misfortune a person can take in via the Internet, and there’s no easy way to properly calibrate it—no guidebook for how to expand your heart to accommodate these simultaneous scales of human experience; no way to train your heart to separate the banal from the profound.
The internet is like an all you can eat buffet and we’re the teenager challenging the owner (and our bodies) to see just how far we can stretch the word “unlimited.” We might be getting our money’s worth when it comes to the news and to social media (particularly since most of them are free) but we’re paying a very steep price for it with our health.
Take some comfort in the fact that this is not a new problem. You think there weren’t terrible things happening abroad during the Roman Empire? You think people weren’t constantly having their heartstrings tugged by news of this massacre or that disaster? Of course they were. And you think they weren’t besieged by gossip and petty squabbles at home too?
But the Stoics knew that as important as it was to care about your fellow man–we are made for each other, Marcus wrote–they also knew it was difficult to make a difference if you were constantly in despair. It’s harder still if you don’t know how to regulate that empathy and you try to keep abreast of everything that’s happening everywhere it can be known. Epictetus saidthat selective ignorance was necessary if we wished to improve–and selective ignorance is necessary if we want to improve the world too.
Stop torturing yourself. As Tolentino wrote in her piece “Our ability to change things is not increasing at the same rate as our ability to know about them. “ If we’re not careful, if we don’t manage our information intake and our perceptions properly, the only possible outcome will be learned helplessness…and that doesn’t help anyone.