Opting for Optimism

Looking up from my computer screen, I see blue sky, green
bushes and pink flowering trees. In the northwest, we don’t take that scene for
granted. Coupled with the serenity of the library where I am working, all seems
well with the world.

That is an illusion, of course. I came to this spot seeking
such an impression. I am yearning to escape from a bombardment of news that
includes updates on the Boston marathon bombings, breaking news that Syria is
using chemical weapons, the collapse of a factory building in Bangladesh with
hundreds of casualties and other joy-sapping items. On a more personal front, I
have been deluged with reports of serious illnesses with requests to add the
sick to my prayers, articles about the tragic death of a young girl in a
pedestrian accident and links to introspective pieces about troubled marriages,
mental illness and other challenging life experiences.

Relatively few years ago, I would not have known of much of
this. While I used to read a morning newspaper or tune into the radio for a
quick news update, it wasn’t a constant companion through my day. While I knew
of sad occurrences taking place in my local and intimate social circle, word of
personal tragedies around the world didn’t intrude into my space.

Think about this for a moment.  While there is an occasional uplifting column
in the news, the function of the media is to present what’s going wrong. If
today’s headline is Syria using chemical weapons or deaths in Bangladesh that
does not follow days of headlines reporting on countries whose governments are
peaceful or whose populations enjoyed productive and pleasant weeks. Hundreds
of marathons without crises do not receive attention.  At least, when I confined my newsgathering to
once a day, negativity did not surround me.

Prior to the ubiquitous presence of the Internet in my life,
the tragedies in the lives of those I know were offset by the joys. Yes, I
heard of a friend’s stillborn infant or a relative who was diagnosed with
cancer, but at least as frequently and usually more often, I heard of an
engagement, a birth or other celebratory events. Now that everyone is connected
to everyone else, I am asked to add my prayers to those of thousands of others
around the world, pleading for a complete recovery for people I have never met
or previously heard about.   The ill
person’s name is posted on a Jewish website that I frequent or mentioned on a
blog that I enjoy reading. While I appreciate the opportunity to participate in beseeching Heaven,
some days the abundance of bad news is debilitating.

The urgent emails notifying
me of crises are not offset by joyous reports. No one posts that their cousin’s
husband’s niece gave birth, but they (understandably so) seek prayers if the
baby is months premature and survival is unsure.  I’m invited to share in the sorrows but never
told of the celebrations or the normal, uneventful daily lives that pass
without horrifying interruptions.

This is our reality. We can access news non-stop and
disseminate information at the click of a mouse. Geographic distance is no
barrier to communication. This is, in many ways, a wonderful advance. Yet, it
carries with it the danger of being overwhelmed by gloom.  We can come to expect bad rather than good. I
am taking one step to protect myself from pessimism. I have changed my home
page to a site that searches for uplifting stories, the kind that make you
smile and walk a bit more spiritedly. If I want the (bad) news, I can easily
find it, but I am working to make it a less pervasive presence in my life.

11 thoughts on “Opting for Optimism”

  1. Hi Susan:
    Here’s a favorite verse of mine. I think of every spring as the roses come back to life:
    Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
    Old time is still a-flying:
    And this same flower that smiles today,
    To-morrow will be dying.
    Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)
    English poet and clergyman
    The marvel and beauty of God’s creation is the best of medicine. It helps to restore spiritual harmony to our soul.

  2. My husband gets pictures from a site called Grumpy Cat. He loves them and everyone he shares them with gets a laugh out of them as well. Today it is snowing outside my window. On May 1, imagine having to shovel it again. However, I am happy for the moisture because the lake in our town was at one point almost nonexistent. I thought of all the poor fish. Today, the moisture laden snow has been falling for over 12 hours. God is good. “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew. It’s all perception!

  3. You have done it again! How your piece eerily coincides with a similar event in my own life. We just lost a friend who was a fine soul with a kind heart, but who suffered for some nineteen years, paralyzed from the waist down, because of someone’s foolish choice, a selfish misdirection of his free will. If I thought life was hard for me, I remembered our friend’s poor parents, how they must have suffered.
    It must be human nature to focus on the grim and the grisly events that make up our world. The rubberneckers at accident scenes prove our morbid fascination. The sensationalist news media cater to this sensibility, oft pander to it. And somehow if you seek the thorns, you will find them.
    But we must seek the roses, too. As we enter Alvin Toffler’s phase of Future Shock when even the rate of change becomes exponential, we must keep pace with events. We become saturated with news nuggets, new information. Yet oft in order to smell the roses, I have to retreat, to escape into an oasis of silence and peace. It takes the courage to exclude in order to smell the roses. We must learn when to switch off the tidal roar of new impressions, new information, and go within for the joy. Let not thy heart be troubled.

  4. Jennifer E. King

    A Christian concept is to start each prayer with an acknowledgement of God’s authority followed by praise for God. Christian prayers are rarely rote. You are expected to put in your own words what you are thinking and feeling at that moment. Looking for the good that God has done for you and/or the world in general BEFORE asking for help is an instant, prayer by prayer, way to keep balance as well as a way to reassure that no matter what the answer to your prayer, God is in control and working for the good of all.

  5. Dear Susan,
    Thank you for writing this article! I feel exactly as you do about being continually inundated with tragedy and negativity…I sometimes feel that I want to scream. I try to pray and trust the Lord with it all (because I Do know that He IS in control), but I don’t think we were meant to be bombarded with all of this bad news.
    I have to start obeying Philippians 4:8: Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
    I really love your column….God Bless

  6. I was sure someone would ask for the name of the site I made my home page, but I have only had it for a few days and so am not even sure that this is my final choice. I googled “happy news sites” and a few different ones popped up. There are certainly different word searches that can be done, but IMO the specific page that appeals to me or to anyone else is less important than the idea of not having bad news continually front and center.

  7. You have addressed in your blog post something that I have been sensitive to for years, more so lately–bad news. I, too, have taken steps to protect myself. I strive daily to b-a-l-a-n-c-e my need to know and be well-informed with the need to maintain my health (body, mind, and spirit). What I allow inside me matters. There are days when I know that my prayer load for family and friends is light enough for me to use my faith effectively on their behalf, but that one more tragedy or request for prayer could easily cause me to faint. I’m a nurse. I must continuously guard against compassion fatigue. God bless you, Susan. I love you and your writings.

  8. I wanted to share some good news:
    This past weekend over 180 volunteers of all ages and from differnt backgrounds came together to work side by side for a clean-up around a local park and environmental center. They helped with building nature trails, removing invasive plants and did a general clean-up around an old building that has been turned into a community nature environmental center.
    It was a beautiful day!

  9. Jonathan Steele

    Mrs Lapin (Susan),
    Your step to partake of more positive news is a good idea, but couldn’t you set us a more clear example by naming that good news website? I know doing that may appear to be commercial, but we know it’s not, and the author(s) should benefit from the good that they are trying to do.

  10. I check the cute overload site a few minutes a day to decompress from all the mayhem and despair. Its a nice way to start the day, or take a mental coffee break.

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