It’s now time to talk to you about the old lady and the 6 o’clock news.
Beyond my philosophical outlets I also work in an age care residency. It’s a rewarding job though it can be soul destroying to watch people that you consider friends tackle the debilitating process of aging. Part of my role is to understand what my residents are going through psychologically, and then aiding them to find a purpose within their final years. You may even say that I try to give them a meaning in life.
As you can imagine, speaking about neurotransmitters, pain/pleasure balance, quantum mechanics and meditation doesn’t work with this crowd. Yet giving someone a purpose is often the greatest gift one can give.
I specifically remember a discussion I had with one beautiful elderly lady. Let’s call her Audrey (I have deliberately changed her name for obvious reasons) and she spent a lot of time in her room watching TV. I was talking to her one night whilst she was watching the news. She stated the following.
‘This world is a horrible place full of hate, anger and bad people. There is so much war and death in the world that it’s too dangerous to go outside anymore.’
I had heard similar things from various residents that liked to watch or read the news. These people were hearing about horrible atrocities that occurred around the world each day, and eventually, it became more than just day time viewing, it was their reality. The statement ‘I am glad I am dying soon given the current state of the world’ was spoken way too often by different voices. And it’s not just the elderly that say such things as I also hear it over the dinner table, even if it is just a passing comment. This was unsettling for me, and it certainly got me thinking about what we focus on and how it becomes our perception of reality.
To analyse this let’s start off with the obvious question. Why does the news focus on the worst things that happen in this world?
Obviously the media do this for a reason. They have worked out that bad stories which are full of pain, suffering and violence sell much more than cute stories about bunnies and teddy bears. But why does grief gain our attention more than other light and fluffy tales?
Fear, worry, doubt and any threat to our security has an emotional and physical effect on our body. It makes us alert and more focused than if we were relaxed and happy. This is a natural part of our defence mechanism that is stimulated when we ourselves are threatened.
Imagine walking through the park on a sunny day, listening to your Ipod without a care in the world. How much attention are you paying to your surroundings? Do you notice when people are passing by? Do you focus on details? The answer to these questions are more commonly no, and the media are aware of it.
Now let’s change the scene to a dark alley in the middle of the night. Because danger is a possibility you would be focused, alert and prepared for anything to happen. The Ipod would be turned off as you require all senses to pick up possible dangers. This is the type of stimulus that the media like tapping into.
Emotions are much more than annoying games that the mind plays on us. They are an evolutionary response caused by the brain that tells us when things are wrong and when they are right. Furthermore, they send a message to the body to prepare itself if required.
Let’s use the alleyway example. Your mind firstly notices that there could be danger ahead which converts your emotions to fear. The fear makes you worry about what might happen in the future and doubt the sensibility of walking down such an area. Your emotions now send a message to the body to be prepared for the worst. This is all happening subconsciously. Automatically your heart begins to race faster which pumps your blood around the body at a rapid state. Your muscles tense up, your breathing becomes shallow, and as an effect of all these things you may begin to sweat and your mouth become dry. Your focus is now on the present moment. Yesterday and tomorrow are distant thoughts. To make things worse, if you see a shadow or something move, your heart beats faster, your muscles tighten further, and your body may even begin to tremble. Your mind now needs to decide whether to fight or flight.
Take two deep breaths and relax…
Now that you are relaxed think of a hurricane completely destroying your house tomorrow whilst you are at work J If you have children they were safely out doing something interesting. If you work at home imagine you went out for a coffee when this occurred. If you don’t drink coffee have a tea. If you don’t drink tea stop being a smart ass and let’s continue with the scenario J
One of the most important emotions is security. The house/apartment/money/assets and so forth are all a big part of this in most people’s lives. The simple idea of losing a home can create anxiety and lead to pain, worry, fear and doubt. The media know this and have done their homework.
So why do the media report scary stories that threaten your security and way of life? Because it creates an evolutionary response that makes you sit up, pay attention, focus, think and at times, even react. If there were fluffy bunnies within the press of a button you would most likely not change the channel. They don’t make you alert. You will not be focused. And more importantly you will not stick around between commercials. This being said, if you hear about terrorists, disasters, things that affect your freedom and/or might be a danger to your kids, it is harder for you to turn away.
To make things worse, the news channels, magazines and newspapers are all in competition with each other to see who can make you feel more scared. The most frightening headline which eradicates your security will be the largest selling, viewed and purchased media that day.
Basically, this all means that the media’s job is to make you crap your pants. The more fear driven you are the more likely you are to buy their product. As the saying goes ‘it’s a dog eat dog world’. Governments and businesses use these tactics regularly. This might have sounded like a conspiracy theory a while back, yet now the media report on the government’s tactics of manipulation every week. It’s just a pity that they don’t discuss their own.
Next week we will talk about the broader effects that the news has on a person’s reality and why it is only a limited perspective on life.