This is what happens when you have real conversations with real people.
Turn off the News and start having real, in-depth conversations about real, in-depth issues that affect us deeply, personally, and immediately and you will discover a wonderful way to live your life.
Phone ringin’ off the shelf
I guess somebody got somethin’ they
Really wanna prove to us today
— Kurt Vile
The other day someone asked me about some news item, and I replied that I had no idea as I didn’t watch/read/listen to the news.
“How do you know stuff?” he asked, bemused.
“Well,” I replied, “if it’s important enough for me to know, I will find out one way or another, probably by having a real-life conversation with a real-life person. Such as yourself. Right now.”
He wasn’t satisfied with that response and asked if I voted. “Of course I vote,” I said. “It’s compulsory.”
“So how do you know who to vote for?”
“When it comes to an election, I research who is standing, what they stand for, and what policies they support.”
There is, in my humble opinion, a mistaken belief that passively consuming The News somehow makes one informed. All News is ‘fake’ in the sense that the stories presented are carefully curated to invoke a response in the audience. And News editors know their respective audiences and know how to get them engaged and enraged.
For the most part, most News is largely irrelevent to me and has no real impact on my day-to-day existence. I consider it nothing more than idle gossip, something to talk about. I would invite you to spend an extended period of time being ‘News-mute’ (try a month at least) and then notice the difference for yourself.
The world continues on as it will, whether I pay attention to the News or not. Politicians still bicker, governments and bureaucrats will still make the decisions they make, murders will still occur, cats will still get stuck in drains, and football teams will still win, lose, and find themselves in scandals. Knowing about them does not affect what happens to me daily.
Which leaves the issue of conversation: what is there left to talk about?
Remember there’s just one thing
Whenever you come this way
Maybe we can get together
We can get together
You know I wouldn’t get you down
I just like talking to you
I speak to a lot of people in my work. Our conversations become personal, the content of them matter in a real-life way.
Yesterday, I chatted with a single dad about dating, and starting (or ending) relationships when considering the impact on our children. This is something that single parents who seek love know all too well. And something that is difficult to navigate in the beginning. When one is in that situation, it borders on being an existential challenge — how separate is your identity away from being a parent? And when you date a mother/father, you’re also dating their child/ren… which of course poses challenges for the other person, especially if they aren’t a parent.
Last week, I had a conversation with a young woman who was very career-driven, and was facing significantly real ‘glass ceiling’ issues in her company. She was incredibly smart, sassy, and professional. She was also deeply concerned that in order to get where she wanted to go, she was sacrificing her femininity, her ethics, and her whole life. This clash of Values for her was a minefield, and was affecting her sleep, her health, and her relationships.
In another recent conversation, a young foreign student had finished their University exams, and knew that they hadn’t performed that well, possibly even failed a subject. Living in a foreign country, and English not being her native language, she sometimes found it difficult. She also had to juggle study with working, and living in a foreign country. She was terrified of speaking to her family back home and giving them the news; it seemed that there was a lot of pressure on her to achieve.
Three complete strangers, three examples of real-life stories. This is what happens when we don’t talk about “the News”.
Every day I get the opportunity to discuss real issues that affect real people. In the short time we have together, we discuss possibilities, and consider different perspectives. We share our common experiences and our common humanity.
When the News is presented on mass media — be it print, online, or televised — it becomes ‘unreal’. Like watching Game of Thrones or The Batchelor, it is all fiction, all entertainment. To be informed is to actively engage and research something. This involves wide reading, critical analysis, and understanding the broader context of that issue.
Because with issues that affect you deeply and personally, you would never just take someone else’s word for it; you’d never let someone else do all the research and critical thinking for you.
When you have surface conversations, you talk about the weekend’s footy match, you chat about last night’s TV shows, and you have shake your head and shrug your shoulders at the front page of the newspaper. Your engagement and connection with each other is ephemeral.
But when you have deep conversations, you discover each other’s loves and fears, wounds and hopes, and the events and experiences that have shaped each other’s personalities. You become engaged and connected with each other, and develop (over time) an invested sense of empathy.
And it’s harder to hate the other person when you recognise a deeply shared sense of humanity, is it not?
While you are wasting your time on your enemies
Engulfed in a fever of spite
Beyond your tunnel vision reality fades
Like shadows into the night
— Pink Floyd
I used to have the News channel constantly on in the background. I would also have the News-Radio (or talkback radio) playing in the background. Because I needed to be informed (that was my belief), and be ready to counter any argument with ‘facts’. I needed to judge all my behaviours and habits and consumer choices based on ‘proper’ understanding of what was happening in the world. It was stressful.
By accident, I spent two weeks without the TV and radio. I discovered a sense of peace, harmony, and self-awareness that I had not recognised. And so I never turned on the TV or radio again.
That was back in 2012. That’s also when I turned my attention to being ‘online’ and utilising social media. I’ve recently switched off those also (that’s another story), however I feel that my life became more real when I ignored the News.
In both Taoist and Zen traditions, what matters more than ‘being informed’ is being completely present to your experience in the here-and-now. These traditions even eschew studying and reading about Taoism and Zen, saying that their texts are nothing but the recorded experiences of those masters. Certainly read them, but don’t take them as truth — for the only ‘truth’ is what is experienced in the moment. Once the moment is gone, even that becomes a fiction of sorts — in that, it no longer matters as it is now past, not present.
By allowing my attention to be absorbed by an external event, I remove it from my immediate sense of place. By remaining present, I have found myself attending to what I am experiencing and feeling internally. Which in many cases is joy, love, and gratitude. But there has also been the experience of sadness, loss, grief, anger, fear, and shame.
By remaining present, I get to experience all of these, and move my experiences beyond them also. It has led to some profound healing of old wounds, and also recognition of some wonderful parts of my life I had hitherto ignored.
That deeper connection to myself helps heighten the connection to others. The News certainly connects all of us, makes aware of the suffering of others on the other side of the world. This can lead to a sense of anxiety about not being able to do anything about it — because in most situations, I simply cannot. In being deeply conected to my inner-Self, I may be moved at the plight of others less fortunate as myself, however I also don’t feel the anxiety of not being able to do anything about it.
The more we connect the whole world, the more we lose the authentic connections in the here-and-now between individuals. Human connectivity is important, but in order for it to be real, we need to keep the micro-connections alive at the same time as we maintain and continue to build our macro-connections.
So turn off the News and go have a real, deep conversation with someone. And observe how close to them you feel.
Secrets and sharing soda
That’s how our time began
Love is a story told to a friend
It’s second hand
— Joni Mitchell