Some of the clients I was meant to read for this week don’t read the news, so were surprised and shocked when I told them about the earthquake that happened in my home city of Christchurch, New Zealand.
The earthquake (7.1 on the richter scale) has been all over the national news channels and websites for the last few days. It’s also been in the international news. It gave me the opportunity to think about the media and TV news and how draining I find them. I wanted to write this post to share my thoughts with those who (like me) have a difficult relationship with news sites, newspapers and TV news.
What About You?
Empaths – do you bother with the news?
Following the news can be difficult if you are an empath/sensitive and feel like you need to stay informed. Do you learn to switch off your sensitivity and toughen up while reading about the news? Do you avoid it altogether and end up feeling uninformed and disconnected from current affairs?
Ever since I was little I can shed tears for people on the television and feel huge pain that is not mine. The rest of my family do not experience this in the same way. It’s been called neurotic, too emotional or overly-sensitive. It’s actually the intuitive gift of empathy, expressed in a particularly unhelpful way.
The Purpose of Empathy
I believe that being plugged into others emotionally on a global scale is useless, unless you plan to do something practical about it.
On the other hand, in a tribal context, emotional empathy and sensitivity were actually wonderful mechanisms that have helped humans. Maybe you could call them evolutionary mechanisms.
We all need empaths within a community. They are able to anticipate needs and feelings and help keep the peace. They are (and have been) the mediators who can see and feel both sides of a story. They are often the ones that lend an ear and a shoulder to others in times of disappointment and grief. They are able to validate the emotional and spiritual experiences of others.
So, in a tribal or community context, empathy makes sense because it can be followed through with action.
Plugged into the Whole World?
Now this evolutionary advantage of sensitivity and empathy has the potential to weaken us – emotionally and mentally – in this era of information. I say that because these days, we’re not just plugged into our children, our extended families and our communities. We’re also able to be plugged into the citizens of countries we’ve never been to and know little about. We see their pain on our television screens. We read about atrocities that have happened there.
In no period of history have we ever been so exposed to the pain and problems of so many people.
But for what?
Unless you plan to help poverty-stricken or suffering people in practical ways, what is the point of reading and watching such news?
No one (and that includes empaths) can help the whole world, unless they decide to have a career on the international stage. I believe that empathy works well in a one-to-one context and as such, empaths are usually here to bring their gifts to those closest to them – their tribe, community, as they need to.
There are 6,697,254,041 people in the world (2008) according to the World Bank. A lot of things happen to those people in any given day. Some good, some bad. Yet most international news sites seem to be a run-down of the most atrocious, tragic, gory, unfair and awful things to happen to the most unfortunate on our planet.
If you feel what others feel easily, it’s madness to be plugged into it every day. Being exposed to such a horrid and tragic selection of what goes on in the world on a daily basis is downright toxic for the mind and heart.
I am writing this for myself as much as anyone else.
I personally have an off-on relationship with the Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper. I don’t know why I read it. Some mornings I will include it in my first-thing internet visits (along with my email, Facebook and Twitter) before I even make myself a drink or have breakfast. Sometimes I read it out of boredom.
Half of the time I regret it. Throughout the day I have news of human rights abuses in the Middle East floating around in my brain. Animal cruelty is another one that hurts. Sometimes it’s mixed in with something funny, or occasionally something wonderful, but rarely.
It’s my daily dose of human despair. That has nothing to do with me.
When is International News a Good Thing?
International and national news can be a limited blessing if the news actually concerns you. I found this out three days ago, when the earthquake happened. The night before I had driven 200 miles North to where my mother lives (Blenheim) so I was out of town when it happened. I needed to know some things that I thought the news could answer. Was the language school where I was working still standing? Was my apartment block likely to be damaged? When could I go back?
But again, the information was only useful to the extent that it could actually answer MY questions. I only needed a small dose to know what was going on, and in the end I got my most useful information from friends, family and co-workers. I didn’t need half-hourly updates on people losing their homes and their livelihoods.
Beyond that, all I had to give was my tears, which helps no-one, and especially not me.
What Can You Do?
If I’m going to plug into international misfortunes and injustice, then the obvious outcome of this is activism or offering support. I won’t give in to voyeurism. If I insist upon reading about human rights abuses on a regular basis, then I will do something for Amnesty International. If I must read about animal rights abuses, then I will support an animal charity or help at an animal shelter. Otherwise, I won’t read about things that have nothing to do with me – that can lead to information overload and helplessness. Lord knows I am motivated enough to help. The question is not if, but how.
I know I probably won’t “toughen up” or become less ‘neurotic’ or sensitive in this area. Despite overcoming overactive empathy in interactions with individuals, it still creeps up on me when I’m reading the news, especially when there is death or great suffering involved. I haven’t managed to get rid of the sensitivity.
Do I want to? After all, my sensitivity helps me to navigate relationships, read for people, anticipate what my language students are struggling with and want to explore.
Without it, I wouldn’t be me.
My Answer? – Being in Touch with Reality Without Hurting Myself
There is a middle path.
New-age people are often accused of being unplugged from reality and making out that everything is all sweetness and light and hearts and flowers. Maybe spiritual and sensitive people do avoid negativity and even bury their heads in the sand when it comes to what goes on in the world. I know I have done that at times.
But I don’t think it is necessary to disconnect from all the pain in the world and pretend that it doesn’t exist; that we’ve transcended it or are OK with it. And it is not necessary to let the spirit of activism die.
My mantra is: I will plug in if I am in a position to help. If I can’t help you or offer support in some way that honours both me and you, I won’t plug in to you and feel what you’re dealing with.
Otherwise I’m wasting my time and my energy.
I know that sounds harsh. It doesn’t mean I lose compassion for those people. It’s just that I don’t lose my emotional energy over it. After all, being human means you don’t always have masses of emotional energy to be putting out there, for nought.
Empathy and sensitivity are gifts to be honoured and protected. They make you function differently from some people. But that doesn’t mean you need to do as most people do. Most people don’t have the same level of sensitivity as you (if you’re reading this.) So don’t allow modern media and the information connection with the entire world to swallow up your emotional energy and leave you exhuasted.
Empaths, intuitives and sensitives have always been, and continue to be, most useful in their own backyard.
Sensitive, empathic and intuitive readers…do you read/watch the news?
Do you agree with my approach or do you have one that is more effective for you? Please leave a comment and let me know.