For the past week, I have wanted to write an article about self-definition—how we see and understand who we are. I can define myself by my ethnic heritage, my spiritual association, my profession, my physical and mental profile, or I may choose something really depressing, like listing all the things that I can’t do. It’s a question of balancing all the elements that make up who and what a person is. I have had difficulty writing my article because of all the distractions provided by Social Media and The Media.
This month is Suicide Awareness Month, and if you are depressed or suicidal, it is not in your best interest to read the awareness heightening material provided—it will depress you further. You can crush your spirits even more by consuming the output of the news media as they describe horrendous acts by fellow humans, foreign and domestic. They will do so repeatedly to be sure you’ve had your fill. I joined some support websites from which I am now backing away. After reading about the lives of my fellow suffers, I feel worse than ever, and much of the ‘support’ is mere rhetoric. ‘Hang in there’ seems inadequate to me.
I’ve heard from avid consumers of news, many holding opinions about what has been done, and what should have been done. Some of them can’t separate action from actor, or accept that the public can’t have all the information. They seem critical and irrational to the point of abuse. A bishop of my acquaintance once described people who did not read the news as ‘irresponsible’. I disagree. I have communicated with people who never watch the news or read a newspaper. I think they may be self-preservationists.
At the beginning of the summer I wrote an article entitled ‘Ring the Bell’, in which I described a vision I sometimes entertain. When things in life become so overwhelming, I think, ‘Somewhere in the universe, someone needs to ring a bell, and all this friction and conflict will stop. We will all put away our disagreements, hostilities and strife, go for a beer, and spend a pleasant evening.’
Reading a lot of depressing psychological statistics and recommendations, I realize the sufferer is expected to take the first step (practical but not necessarily realistic)—to reach out, speak out, hopefully not lash out, and begin a process of peace and healing. I realize, as I accept this realization, we all need to ring our own bell. The first step is that person’s ‘ringing of the bell’.
It is a question of balance.
While I agree there is need for us to have knowledge of what’s happening in the world, the bishop was wrong. People who do not devour information provided by the news media are not ‘irresponsible’; more fairly, they have a sense of their own tolerances and limits. The Media has a responsibility they seldom satisfy. Inundating the public with one disaster or atrocity after another, and with such graphic intensity, without counterbalancing information about the positive things that are being done is irresponsible. Media contributions have a powerful effect on the mood of the public. Statistics about the daily suicide rate are staggering (and depressing); how are they helpful? It doesn’t take a lot of narrative to establish in the public mind that suicide is not a good thing. Talk instead about what can be done, and about what we can do. Try to reach suicidal and depressed people with sincere messages of hope and support. Private individuals who use social media to post articles expressing their personal outrage and fear, do so with such ferocity and frequency that for the public, it’s like being flogged rather than informed. Personal bias plays a significant role in these postings—the lack of balance has an effect on others. Rage unbalances us all.
This actually does tie in with ‘self-definition’, so I get to write my article after all.
There is a disability advocate, a wheelchair user, for whom disability constitutes her entire identity. She is a crashing bore and a social-event landmine because all she can talk about is disability. It is almost impossible to imagine that she has any other interest, or can play any other role in life than ‘disabled victim’. There is no balance when all you are is one thing. To counter that, there are many people wrestling with physical and mental health issues—their own and others—who are active and productive in their professional communities, avidly creative, active volunteers, optimistic students—people with bright futures. They have chosen to strike a balance. They won’t deny their age or physical limitations, or their history of depression or that they juggle the extremes of bi-polar disorders. They just won’t let that be solely who they are. They balance their internal struggles with their real-world output, and choose to see themselves as positively as possible.
If we cannot rely on the Media and the private individuals who delight in informing and scaring us with overwhelming negativity, then we need to take steps to right the balance. We need to acknowledge that we can only do this for ourselves. There is strength in having a positive and well-adjusted self-definition. You know your abilities and your limits (sometimes the most power tool you have is recognizing what you can’t do). None of us by ourselves can save the world, eradicate famine, cure dreadful diseases, or end poverty. It would be wonderful to make greed and hatred a thing of the past, but they are part of being human (normal desires and feelings exaggerated out of proportion).
To balance that knowledge of our limitations, we still can save ourselves and help those around us. We can work for equilibrium between the good and the bad in our own lives, and perhaps in time, the doomsayers will get the message. Those who commit atrocities—especially lethal ones—do so for world attention. What would happen if the public didn’t give it to them?
Let’s ring the bell, if only for ourselves. I will meet you where Love, Sensibility and Balance abide. I hope you can’t pick me out—that would be great! It’s one time I want to be lost in a crowd.
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