A few days ago, I heard about a new book–Hate Inc.: Why today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another by Matt Taibbi. The title took the words right out of my mouth.

Negative Emotions Work Against Us

One of my favorite quotes comes from Yoda in Star Wars, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” There is no doubt that much of today’s media–both broadcast and print–instills fear, and often, anger. These emotions naturally lead to hate, as Yoda said. But the media themselves sometimes even directly monger hate.

Fear, anger and hate is a recipe for conflict, including violence, such as we saw at the US Capitol on January 6. These emotions can quickly turn what could have been a peaceful protest into a deadly, riotous insurrection. Even when they don’t lead to physical violence, fear, anger and hate put people in such a frame of mind that it’s difficult, often impossible, for them to practice the skills I teach for resolving conflict. They can’t have a calm, rational conversation.

Make News Quantity Healthier

Yet, I consider it a civic duty to keep informed. So how can we make our news consumption healthier?

In this post, Part IIIA of the Lessons from the Capitol series, let’s talk about quantity of news. It horrifies me to know that there are people who, when at home, keep the television constantly tuned to a twenty-four hour news channel–every waking moment. Even at work and other places away from home, some watch these channels at every opportunity–at lunch, at the gym, in waiting rooms, anywhere they can.

They are brainwashing themselves and actually becoming addicted to negative emotions. And, yes, over exposure to emotions–whether good emotions or bad emotions–is addicting. They actually become wired into our brains. They come to feel normal. We feel them on auto-pilot. However, this kind of brain wiring can be overcome when we stop over consuming negative news and engage in more positive activities.

What Are Your Interests?

My entire persuasion/consensus building/communication system is based on interests. Examine your interests in watching or reading news. Ask yourself my First Magic Question, “Why?” Why do you watch or read news? Most will, initially, answer, “Keep informed.” But dig deeper. Why do want to keep informed?

Some people will have trouble answering that question because, once they have learned to fear and hate some large class of people, such as Democrats or Republicans, their news consumption is driven by a vague sense that, if they are not aware of every single statement or act of “the enemy,” they somehow become vulnerable. And you don’t have to be watching news every waking moment to feel this.

So let’s dig even deeper. What will you actually do with the “information” you hear or read? My answers would include, “Decide how to vote,” and “Decide if I want to write a letter to a senator or representative in Congress or my state legislature.” I neither need nor want over exposure to make these decisions.

If you answered, “I want to be prepared to argue with those on ‘the other side,'” I suggest you go back and reread my last post about the futility of trying to argue with people in the throes of fear, anger and hate. Read why attempting such arguments actually works against your interests by strengthening your opponents’ adherence to their positions.

What about Emergencies?

The events of January 13 were unprecedented, history in the making. That was an emergency situation. For a while, we didn’t know if or when officials would secure the Capitol. We didn’t know if the electoral vote would proceed. We didn’t know if the violence would spread, possibly to our own local areas. As on September 11, 2001, or here on the Gulf Coast when there is a hurricane threatening, responsible people watch more TV news. Even so, once an emergency is under control and/or there’s nothing new going on, we don’t need to keep watching and re-watching, things like planes flying into buildings, people rampaging into the doors of the Capitol or hurricane force winds blowing down trees and buildings.

In non-emergency, non-historical situations, an hour or two a day should be enough news consumption for most people’s true needs. If the very idea of limiting yourself to one or two hours feels uncomfortable, if you resist it, that is an indication that you are over consuming, and possibly addicted to negativity. Because, let’s face it, most news is negative. People don’t tune in to see news about other people behaving normally.

Try a News Diet for Two Weeks

I urge you to try limiting yourself to an hour or two of news consumption per day for just two weeks. Then note how you feel. Are you more relaxed? Are you happier, more at peace with yourself? Also, note what you do. Do you find yourself having more civil conversations and fewer arguments? Do you engage in more leisure activities? Do you spend more quality time with your children, spouse or other domestic partner?

Are you concerned that you might miss something important? If it’s really important, it will almost certainly turn up in your one or two hours of news, and even if it doesn’t, you will probably hear it by word of mouth. And it’s only two weeks. If, at the end of them, you don’t feel you’re on a better path, you can always go online and catch up on what else has been happening. In fact, this can be a modification of your two hr./day news diet. Allow yourself one session of, perhaps, 2 to 4 additional hours of catch-up every two weeks.

A Personal Experience

Speaking for myself, once I saw our new president sworn in peacefully, without incident, I did not feel the need to keep listening to journalists “analyze” and comment upon his speech or other things that happened during the inauguration for hours on end. And guess what? I had not exercised for the preceding four days. When I prepared to work out on January 20, I was thinking I might not be able to do as many reps. But I actually found myself doing more reps than usual without even thinking about it. Reducing not only negativity, but repetition about serious matters, has a positive impact on one’s health and physical strength.

What’s Next

Next time, we’ll talk about how to manage the quality or substance of our news consumption so that we make the healthiest choices for our one or two hours of news per day. In fact, you’ll find that managing the news quality enables you to keep your news quantity lower, i.e., stick to your diet.

So look forward to the next post.