Friday, August 12, 2011

It's rough out there, but don't turn away

I made my way through the grim headlines flooding in from all sources this week, feeling anxious at the sheer abundance of bad news. The unanswered questions leaped out in every direction - no shortage of column fodder. But could I really bear to know more about any of it?
It’s a big question. There are days when it would be so appealing to just shut the door on trying to understand anything about anything.
Why the Air France pilots didn’t hear the “stall” alarm. What it means that the U.S. is falling apart. Why London is beset by violent riots. Why people are starving to death, struggling, hurting each other.
There are cheerier things to think about, so why wouldn’t we? But then I get to thinking about what would happen if we genuinely quit concerning ourselves with the problems of our world.
A lot of people seem to find that an appealing option. I just read about a mega-wealthy U.S. woman noted for the staggering amounts of fans she has attracted with her blog about cowboy life on her mega-ranch, with a spouse she calls the Marlboro Man.
She sells a fantasy, not this gritty, messy and unpredictable thing we call reality. She’s all country living, home-schooling and good food for your man. You won’t find any images of cadaverous Somali toddlers on a blog like that.
Over here in Reality Land, things aren’t so sunny. We live in a fast-flowing tide of world events, fed to us in real time through all the electronic gadgetry that now connects us to the events of this stressed-out, troubled world.
And with all that news comes a feeling: Wouldn’t my life be better if I didn’t know about all of this?
No wonder people check out. I regularly talk to friends who I once considered informed, but who now don’t have a clue about what’s going on outside of their immediate circles. They’re not paying attention at any level unless it directly involves them or their family.
Like I say, I can see the draw of that sometimes. Ignorance really can be bliss, at least until disaster strikes.
But what will happen if too many of us turn away from the pressing issues of the day? Who will be left to solve the problems?
Consider the case of the Air France jet crash, for instance. The inquiry going on right now into that fatal crash in 2009 has the feel of one of those distant stories from a land far away - a tragic event with little relevance to most of our lives.
Except that vast numbers of us rely on jet travel all the time. We put our lives directly into the hands of men just like those poor befuddled souls in the cockpit of Flight AF447. Whatever happened in the cockpit that day, every air traveller in the world has a personal stake in understanding it.
Good-news proponents would point to all the flights that never crashed that day as a better story. And they’ve got a point. Most planes don’t crash.
But this one did. And because the world’s information gatherers jumped on the inquiry as a story, we know much more about what went wrong - with how the pilots were prepared for the unthinkable, the way the stall alarm sounded, the confusion around communications and decision-making in those frightening final moments.
It’s an anxiety-inducing story. You can’t fault any frequent flyer for thinking that news about planeloads of relaxed passengers landing uneventfully would be preferable.
Unfortunately, focusing on what’s going right doesn’t change what’s going wrong. Bad news might be a downer, but it’s how we identify and address problems.  
There’s definitely such a thing as too much bad news, mind you.
Crime has been on the decline for years in Canada, particularly among youth. But one-off stories of individual crimes around the world still dominate the news.
The result: We waste our time electing governments that pander to our fears with promises of getting “tough on crime.” Not surprisingly, that just gets us more jails - and none of the social programs of 15 and 20 years ago that actually brought about the current drop in crime.
If you need a break from the gloom, by all means take one. Even cowgirls get the blues.
But please come back when you’re feeling better. The world needs you.


Sarah Stewart said...

YES! I love the sentiment of this post, Jody. Just because it's understandable that we want to check out doesn't mean we should. There are so many without that option.

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