I have to admit it. I avoid politics at all costs. And if I am to be completely honest, I’ve actually stopped reading the news altogether, an interesting state of affairs for a journalist. It all happened around the last Presidential election in 2020. It turned out that if I didn’t hear stories about how awful the world was, well…I felt a whole lot better about the world in which I lived.
My experience was similar to this guy’s on Quora:
“Well, from personal experience, I can tell you that I became very confused when I decided to drastically cut back the amount of “news” that I took in. I didn’t know who I was supposed to hate anymore. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be angry about. I didn’t know what to panic about. Shoot, I still haven’t run to Costco to stock up on toilet paper! And I’ve seriously found that I’m not remotely as angry as I used to be.”
For me, anger wasn’t the problem—it was anxiety. In the year before the election, there began to grow a vacuous pain in the pit of my stomach, a flittering of the heart that felt dangerous and made me feel icky. There was just too much political stress; it felt like everyone was on high alert at every moment, afraid their team was going to lose and the whole system would come teetering down. And after the election, the bombardment continued with a non-stop stream of “breaking news” about the changing climate, the war in Ukraine, the January 6th insurrection, abortion, the Supreme Court…you name it.
I couldn’t handle it.
It is not that I don’t care about what is happening in the world—to the contrary, I would say that I care too much, and am not able to digest so much bad news in a healthy manner. How can a person take in endless negativity without becoming negative?
But it’s more than an acute sense of empathy that keeps me from wanting to know the ins and outs of every crisis—one could argue that most of the news is entirely predictable. I could likely craft a novel—as many people already have—that mimics the exact outcome of elections, environmental conflicts, and wars, without knowing the particularities of today’s fiascoes.
History repeats itself again and again—it is a possibility that we could learn from the past and focus on our future, instead of just obsessing about the present. Aren’t we well equipped to work against the current state of affairs, even if we don’t read the news?
In my world paradigm, it’s sadly human nature for those in power to seek to stay in power, to bring favor to their friends and family, and to use that power for their own dang good before using it for the good of others. People tend to take advantage of each other (they are no better than our goats), and if someone can make money at it, they will happily destroy the environment in a heartbeat.
Which sounds depressing, perhaps even anxiety-producing. But in a weird way, understanding our tendencies allows me to be hopeful. I don’t need to spend my time and headspace worrying on a daily basis about all that is wrong in the world. I can allocate that same energy to working to fix things and to noticing the people that don’t suck, those who commit themselves to taking care of others. Knowing that all of this has happened before comforts me. Humans have survived horrific things before, and we likely will again.
Yet with my usual avoidance of politics, I surprised even myself when I signed up to work the polls next week. I agreed to do a fifteen-hour shift—from 6 am to 9 pm—in the Community Center in our tiny town of Lovilia, in a building with no internet and no windows. I don’t actually recall what inspired me to do such a thing. I think it was some strange sense of civic duty, much like showing up for jury duty or paying one’s taxes, events that no one enjoys but someone needs to do in order to keep society rolling along.
I would say the event will be miserable, except that at our training with the county Auditor I learned the best news about our marathon Election Day shift I could have imagined. We are banned from talking politics, AT ALL, TO ANYONE. There will be no talking about who we want to win and no explaining who is who on the ballot. We will not be able to follow or discuss who is winning, our feelings about it, or what we hope the outcome will be.
Maybe being in the midst of it all, will be just the place to be.