With a flood of bad news coming out Israel and Palestine, the Ukraine, Syria and Iraq and, finally, along the U.S.-Mexico border, it is easy to be overwhelmed. How does one cope and stay spiritually engaged when all the news is bad?
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, who blogs as the Velveteen Rabbi, shares some thoughts:
It’s tempting to want to respond to the echo chamber by shouting more loudly. But I don’t think that actually works, and I think that giving in to that impulse can engrave hurtful grooves on our hearts. I’ve written about that before, too — how easily the mind becomes accustomed to a thought pattern and gets stuck there; how our repeated thoughts carve grooves on the soft clay of our consciousness (Carving new grooves on heart and mind, 2013.)
Jay also writes about simple ways each of us can take control of our interactions. He shares the questions he asks himself before posting, forwarding, or amplifying news about Israel / Palestine. He concludes with the final question he asks himself before posting:
Why post at all? Rabbi Kurtzer has proposed a 24-hour “social media fast” this week, mirroring the fast of the 17th of Tammuz. That’s an excellent start. I suggest a different culinary metaphor, though. Let’s post only when it’s glatt kosher — or more precisely, glatt yosher, i.e., extremely just, righteous, compassionate, clear. If we pick and chose before posting the same way a Hasid picks and chooses before eating broccoli, our Facebook feeds would be a lot thinner and our collective blood pressure would be lower.
I appreciate his suggestion that we post only when we can exercise the discernment to tell that what we’re writing is just, righteous, compassionate, and clear. And I would add: we should exercise that same discernment in deciding how and whether to participate in social media even as readers. What we take in, through reading or viewing, enters our hearts and minds. Some of us can manage that without experiencing trauma. Some of us are more emotionally porous and may be hurt by the repeated exposure. (And any given person may be at a different place on that spectrum at different times — maybe one day you’re able to manage what you’re reading, and the next day it becomes too much.)
If watching the news or reading your social media feeds leaves you struggling with crying jags, panic attacks, nightmares, anxiety which won’t let up, you are not alone, and what you’re feeling is real. Different people heal in different ways, but I’ve found that the best tools include disengaging for a time from social media and the news, and when the obsessive anxious thoughts recur, just noticing them, without judgement, and redirecting my thoughts in another direction. For me that usually means prayer, but use whatever works for you: music, exercise, thinking about an event you’re looking forward to, calling a loved one, whatever works.
Marinating in a perennial bath of horrific news can actually cause harm. Whatever obligations you may feel to those who are suffering, you aren’t helping them by harming yourself.