I came of age during a time when the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope was in full-force. I absorbed the message that being a little bit broken, a little bit sad, and just the right kind of quirky made girls more interesting, and so those were the things I tried to be. Granted, some of them would have happened either way, but in retrospect I see at least a few instances where I was pretty smug about it.
These days, it's not the MPDG trope that fills the world of my peer group, but something different. I'm not sure if this is a more generalizable trend, or just something that's happening among the people I generally associate with, but mixed in with the Cult of Busyness (which has been discussed a lot recently) there's also a Cult of Overwhelm. The Cult of Overwhelm is a little bit different than the Cult of Busyness, although they sometimes overlap. Alongside the implication that it's normal and a sign of strong character to be just so busy, there's a rapidly-growing attitude that it's normal to be drowning in news, that good people should be drowning in the news, and that stepping away from your feeds even for a moment is akin to ignoring the plight of someone less fortunate. In the Cult of Overwhelm, like in the Cult of Busyness, being swamped is honorable.
Now, I promise that I'm reading the news. I read it multiple times a day, and I do have alerts for big news events. I read many sources, some of them traditional and some of them not. I am informed, and although I might be an hour or two behind the wire services, I generally know what's happened around the world and in my community on any given day. But when I tell members of the Cult of Overwhelm that I do, in fact, put away my newsfeeds unless it's a news-time that I've chosen, the response is often in the vein of aren't you afraid you'll miss something??
And to be honest, no, I'm not. If there's going to be a nuclear holocaust or something I need to respond to immediately, somebody's going to make sure I know right away, and anything I can't personally respond to immediately will still be true in an hour or two, or in the morning. I can't speak for everyone, of course, by my personal anxiety-ridden subconscious brain has a really hard time recognizing that the repeating headlines in my Twitter feed or the cycling TV news are all the same story. We know this is true for children, but I suspect it's also true, to an extent, for everybody. Your conscious brain knows it's a repeat, but does your subconscious brain know that all those little jolts of fear you're getting aren't unique threats?
I really, really do believe that it's ok to only read a news story once. I think it's our responsibility to get a few different perspectives on a story to find out how it's impacting people who aren't like us, of course, but I think it's ok to designate an hour or three of your day to do so. It's one thing to respond to immediate calls to action, but I also think it's ok to wait until a few hours or even a day after something happens to let the panic subside just a little bit before you get everybody's take on a story, because panic is contagious and generally unhelpful.
You are obligated to know what's happening and do what you can. You are not obligated to drown yourself in doing so. The news will still be true tomorrow, and by tomorrow, we might have a better idea of what it actually means. Being able to view a situation with a meaning-making perspective is healthy and responsible and much more likely to lead you to be able to do something, if doing something is necessary.
If it helps, you can set up an arrangement with friends where you trade off hours, and whoever is "on" is designated to let everybody know if something major and urgent happens. But nobody needs to be on all the time. If it helps, I step away for hours at a time, and can still tell you with 100% certainty that I have never "missed" an event. It's always still there when I come back. It's rarely even over by the time I get back to it. The world will not end without you knowing about it.
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