OnPointe - The News Scares me / I watched the news

A WEBCOMIC I follow by Nick Seluk features inner conversations between two everyday characters – a heart and brain. They are aptly described as “society-influenced Brain and the impulsive, optimistic Heart”.

In one instalment, Heart and Brain are seen sitting next to each other. Heart looking a mix of frightened and sad, turns to Brain and says “The world is scaring me … Fix it!”

How piercingly true especially for 2016 thus far. There has been too much unpleasantness going on in the world. Just too much and it is scary.

Multiple shootings in the US, innocent people killed in a busy shopping area in Baghdad, people celebrating freedom intentionally killed in Nice, coups and death penalties in a knotted Turkey and the list goes on. In short, it has been a terrible year especially for those of us who routinely read the newspapers on our commutes or on social media with a teh tarik and nasi lemak.

In this day and age, we are constantly in contact with scenes of bloody war zones with minutely updates of “true” happenings. Technology takes us into the destruction all while enjoying the comforts of our living rooms. So while we watch every single attack, we are very much removed from the real destruction of it.

Surely there is an impact from the exposure to such tragedy even from a distance. How does all this affect us, our disposition, our decisions but more importantly how does it shape how we make decisions, how we vote, how we view each other and what we perceive as threats or evil.

We can also look at it from a different angle. What does good news do for us? Perhaps this explains the surge in positive quotes on news feeds and kitten videos. Conversely, a diet of bad news and constant exposure to such negative events does make us feel helpless.

So often people have told me, they do not read the papers. Not only because there is a tight control on the media but because the news is just too depressing. It is understandable, the self-preservation of protecting yourself. The truth is, unless you have a heart of stone, it would be impossible not to be affected by young lives torn apart, or a parent’s anguish carrying a dying child in his or her arms.

But such constant exposure also affects us in different ways. It can make us sensitised to news, numbing our senses because there is just too much going on all the time. A form of apathy that could also feed into a subconscious, which makes us feel helpless or makes us bitter and heightens our prejudice. Often at times, we take our cues from the news and that’s the danger.

So when we are told things like a grenade thrown into a nightclub was the work of IS, how does that affect us? What has Puchong become to many people? Perhaps now you might say, it is a dangerous place. You might also feel threatened and start building prejudices about people of a certain ethnicity and religion.

The reality is many of us do not know beyond our communities and social settings. Which means, that what we know of other areas, places, states or groups of people is actually based on news and hearsay.

It is necessary to then question what is said and the justifications behind the incidents.

We know that many things in Malaysia have a political spin and motivation behind it. Which leads to sensitive issues taking our frontage space. Race relations issues, political issues and now extremist and terrorist issues are used to inflict fear, which then clouds our judgment.

When racial issues are constantly aggravated they influence what we think on many levels, from the other race perspective which subconsciously influences our politics and later our vote. This is a dangerous precedence but of course one that is all too commonly used and familiar to political strategists and spinners, because their goal is not what is best for the country but what is best for the political parties. That is where the public then get used for the benefit of power-drunk politicians.

We live in a country where many things are curated on our behalf. Which really means, someone else is telling you what to think. So we need to be able to sieve out what is bad, what is good, what is useful based on evidence, not what others say or forwards that are passed around. Because the more we live in either bubble – of naivety or over-obsessed news junkie – we run into danger of living in constant fear or putting ourselves in constant danger. We need to then strike a balance because it is not just the media curating the news, but also the politicians feeding the stories.

There is no doubt that we are affected by news, but perhaps the key is not a full detox of news but a more informed manner in looking at what the stories are and the motivation behind what gets highlighted and what doesn’t. If not we might run the risk of Heart, which in a subsequent instalments, is seen bandaged on crutches and when Brain asks “Heart what happened”? Heart replies with sad fearful eyes “I watched the news”.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com