“I know the world’s being shaven by a drunken barber. I don’t have to read about it!”
- From the movie Meet John Doe
That has been my philosophy explaining why I’ve rarely habitually read newspapers my whole adult life. Instead I used the time to read poetry or history or great literature or other such things that give a much greater pleasure and a much deeper insight. But I finally came to realize that this was a luxury and privilege the world can’t afford. As a responsible citizen, I need to know “what’s going on” and respond accordingly.
I put “what’s going on” in quotes because what the newspaper reports is a small fraction of what is really going on and one with a skewed perspective. It leans heavily towards the violent (“if it bleeds, it leads”), the sensational, the catastrophic. If the music teacher helps a child make a breakthrough to a new level of expressive beauty, the news will not notice. If the music teacher loses his cool and throws his student’s trumpet out the window, the news is there in a flash. Especially if the trumpet lands on the car of a visiting politician visiting the school and breaks the windshield.
Such power the media has! It inflates, it exaggerates, it stokes the fires of fear and division, it simplifies complexities into soundbytes that flash or bludgeon or threaten, not necessarily out of ill will, but from the business bottom line of selling papers or attracting viewers. The lower chakras and the brain stem, programmed to be alert to sex and violence and necessarily uninterested in nuanced discussion and subtle emotion, will always attract our attention—evolution demands it. But that brain and bodily systems formed long ago was made to survive the sudden appearance of a tiger or a dangerous lightning storm or a stampeding herd. It was never intended to be the brain we live in, the one that contemporary life presents, amplified by a media having us imagine tsunamis even when the weather outside our window is pleasant and the flowers are blooming.
So how do we stay alert to important issues that the news does bring to us without getting beaten down, defeated, discouraged, even cynical, without cowering in the corner of our flight, fight or freeze brain stem? How can we cope with the constant onslaught of news about climate change, systemic racism, drug addiction, attempts to dismantle democracy and more? What is the proper proportion of news delivered and the news we actually experience in our day-to-day life?
Sherri Mitchell, author of Sacred Instructions, has an answer. She writes:
We can’t create change if we are unwilling to look poverty, pain, injustice, environmental destruction, and all forms of hatred and bigotry squarely in the eye. As we do so, we must learn to limit the mental, emotional, and energetic investment that we make in those images. (boldface mine). This is what I call the 80-10-10 rule. We invest 10 percent of our energy looking at what needs to be changed, another 10 percent holding back the tide of harm that has been created by our previous investments and the final 80 percent creating a reality that offers compassion, safety, equality, justice and sustainability for all life. “
Brilliant! It means that yes, I’m responsible to read enough of the news to know what the issues are and what’s happening and my sense of outrage (or occasionally, happiness) about the news I hear is what helps lead me to articulate what needs to be changed. But I don’t need to furnish that sense of outrage and make it my swelling place. Just 10% is enough and then on to the next 10%. Writing letters, signing petitions, marching on the streets, donating to good causes and so on. Now with phone texts added to e-mail threads, I could give away my entire life’s savings in a month or so if I responded to every plea that came my way. But instead of deleting them all, choose my 10% wisely.
And that leaves 80% for doing precisely what I’m doing at the moment and love doing at all moments—through the vehicle of the Orff workshop, “creating a reality that offers compassion, safety, equality, justice and sustainability for all life. “ And I would add “beauty” and “fun” to Ms. Mitchell’s list.
Thanks to Sherri Mitchell for addressing what so few have—knowing how much is to be done and our tiny contribution so small, how much is enough? Or rather, can we begin to understand that each of these percentages is a way to contribute (note the 80% does not say “after paying your dues with the other 20%, go to Club med and party, party, party!”) I believe it is wise to not venture too far down the rabbit hole of the news junkie, to not simply respond to the outrage and defend, but to actively create the world we want and need and deserve in the unique ways that each of us can do so.
And so back to an afternoon of music classes with these beautiful people from Oklahoma, people the news suggests are on the other side of an uncrossable divide. But they are not.
Not even close. More on this later.