Sometimes it’s even a good thing.
When large-scale tragedy strikes these days, the news is everywhere, and it’s constant. It’s keeps our social networks constantly updating. It keeps 24-hour news channels churning. It takes over the regular channels from our escapist entertainment. Everywhere, people are telling us, “Look! Look at what has happened! Look at the new pictures, new ‘information’, new interviews, new clips of people reacting to tragedy!”
I’m just one little voice, but I’m telling you something else.
It’s okay to look away. It’s okay not to see all the pictures and all the reactions. It’s okay not to hear or read every new thing that all the reporters and friends of the affected and bystanders hear or think. It’s okay to put your head down and walk away. It’s okay to go do something that makes you feel good even when this many people feel bad.
I, for one, can’t take it all. The stress of hours spent on this is bad for me. I’m hardly alone. Whether the tragedy is due to unpredictable occurences, negligence, or malice, spending too much time dwelling on the fact that the world contains all these things just isn’t good for many of us.
It isn’t any abrogation of our duties as human beings to take care of ourselves. Once we know that our loved ones are safe and help pass that news along, there’s very little that most of us can do in this age of global news. Looking after our own mental health (or that of someone close to us) is more productive than most of the choices out there. The time will come when we know what happened, and sometimes why. If we’re in good shape, we’ll make better choices about how we deal with that information.
It isn’t coldness or callousness to shelter ourselves either. If we didn’t care, it would cost us nothing to watch. Emotional callouses are what happen when we can’t get away from something too painful. Limiting our exposure to overwhelming pain and confusion helps to stave off compassion fatigue.
Just a few decades ago, our exposure to this kind of news would have been limited for us. We would have had newspaper printing delays and space constraints. Television time was not something we were so desperate to fill. News from our friends came at a higher cost and, so, was more filtered. We didn’t see tragedy the way we do now.
There were downsides to that, but there were benefits for some of us as well. If you’re one of the people who suffers from the change, you don’t have to. There is no moral obligation. You can look away. And if you must somehow justify your action to yourself, find someone else who suffers the same way. Help them walk away too.
Tell them I said it was okay.