I was watching an interview with Steven Pinker the other day. I’ve admired his work for a long time and love his perspective on a range of things.
He was talking about the difference between daily news and longer-term trends, which is a topic he has researched for many years. And his conclusion is that, whilst there are still many ways in which we can make things better in our world, the overall trend is improvement, so there is a reason to be optimistic. I love it because it is based on facts, not just hope or preference.
And he said something which really hit home: ‘News is a non-random selection of things that are wrong right now.’ He was making the point that the news now follows what people are concerned about – more so if it’s on social media – and it feeds our fears. It is a long way from everything that is happening, good or bad, at any given time.
We have become used to living with fear and disappointment, and the news feeds both those tendencies, keeping us in that frame of mind.
There was a period in my life when I didn’t listen to the news at all, and you know what, I didn’t miss much! If anything momentous happened, people would tell me about it, but most of the time, it just gave me space to pay attention to more useful information.
I confess I got caught back into watching the news when Trump was elected, and became an addict again, following the awful stories about him and others, with a horrified fascination. But Pinker has just prompted me out of my addiction, and I feel better already!
So, I’m ready to suggest again that less news is good news for our mental health and a positive attitude. I have, for a long time, subscribed to a magazine called Positive News, and I’m going to stick with that. It is genuine good news, recording some of those improvements that Steven Pinker talks about. – things we don’t hear about on the daily news.
Many lives are saved every day, and a few are lost. Many people behave kindly, and a few are abusive. Many people are honest, and a few are corrupt. Whatever we pay attention to grows in our minds and lives – let’s concentrate on the better side of human nature.