Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair

#7: News, Politics, and Wisdom

July 19, 2023 Jarrod Blair Episode 7
Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair
#7: News, Politics, and Wisdom
Show Notes Transcript

How much attention should you pay to the news and political controversies? This question is more pressing than ever before. Many of us have electronic devices that grant us near-instant access to the never-ending dramas that are unfolding between over 8 billion people on this planet, but paying attention to everything is a sure-fire path to burnout. In this episode, I talk about a principle derived from Stoic philosophy that can help us to know what topics might be worth our attention, and what topics we should ignore. 

Outro music: "This Morning" by Aldermanswe on Pixabay

Intro music: "Lofi Heavy Chill Bass & Keyboard" by Phill Dillow on Pixabay

Connect with me ;)

Twitter: https://twitter.com/VirtueVibes

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jarrodblair/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/@VirtueVibes

Email: jarrod@virtuevibes.org

Welcome back to Virtue Vibes, the podcast where we think hard about how to be good. I’m your host, Jarrod Blair, and I just wanna say that I’m really glad you're choosing to tune in today. I know there’s plenty of other things you could be listening to, so thank you. I’m gonna do my best to make your time investment worthwhile. 

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the bad news there is in the world? It’s dizzying, isn’t it? It can be so depressing to hear about terrible events, and it can leave you feeling anxious, sad, and angry at the world. 

Or maybe you feel something similar when thinking about politics. Perhaps you feel angry at an opposing political party for some of the awful ideas that they’re spreading. Or maybe you feel shocked and frightened by what’s happening in some other country around the world, which leaves you with anxiety running through your veins as you try to go about your day. 

And to make things even worse, you feel powerless, and unable to do anything about it. 

I think it’s important to stay informed, and to think politically about what's best for the community, but in today’s digital age where you have instant access to the never-ending dramas that are unfolding between 8 billion people on this planet, there’s a real risk of frying your intellectual and emotional circuitry. So today, I want to talk about a principle that can help us determine how to best spend our limited amount of intellectual and emotional energy, instead of being tossed to and fro by the drama of the day. This principle can help us to become the best version of ourselves, which in turn enables us to best help others.  

Let’s jump into it. 

 

---interlude--- 

 

For most of human history, the events and politics that were brought to your attention were closely related to your family, your friends, and the collection of people you coordinated with to survive; this was your village, and staying informed about local events enabled you to take action for the good of everyone involved. Our situation, however, has drastically changed. We now have at our fingertips electronic devices that provide instant access to news and information about the lives of over 8 billion people around the world. That’s wild. It’s hard to even wrap your head around how many people that is. And whenever something tragic, shocking, or outrageous happens in the world, it could end up on your news feed within minutes. And among 8 billion people, with their various chance encounters and moral failings, you’re virtually guaranteed a never-ending supply of tragedy, shock, and outrage. If you wanted to, you could spend all your free time in search of new shocking events and controversies, and you'll always have more left over for your next break.  

This situation can be completely overwhelming if you let it. By gorging your mind on this constant stream of news and political controversy from around the world, you’re not only using up your free time, but you’re also stirring up negative emotions and generating mental tension that will follow you around throughout the day. This is a huge burden to place on your shoulders, so it better be worth it if you're going to tax your intellectual and emotional energy so heavily. But here’s the catch; much of the news people consume is so far removed from their daily life that they’ll hardly be able to do anything about it. All of those negative emotions and that mental tension that was riled up when taking in the drama of 8 billion people will linger in their hearts, trapped with no healthy outlet or way to release that emotion. This is a surefire way to completely fry your intellectual and emotional faculties, and sadly, this is the kind of life that many people have chosen for themselves. 

On the other hand, knowledge is power, and staying selectively informed and engaged can really help us to know how to make a positive impact on our world. Also, it’s important to remember that the negative emotions we feel when hearing about tragic events or political controversy are there for a reason. Feelings like anger, fear, heartbreak, and anxiety can help you to recognize that something is not right, and they can inspire you to take actions that will hopefully remedy the situation. So the person who simply ignores all forms of news and politics for the sake of personal serenity might miss out on opportunities to make a positive impact.  

How then can we strike a balance between the news junkie, strung out on shocking events and political controversy, and the hermit, who cares only about himself?  

 

--- interlude--- 

 

What we need is some kind of filter, some principle, that helps us to regulate our consumption of news and politics. Even just a rough rule of thumb that helps us decide which topics are worth our mental and emotional investment, and which are not, can go a long way towards improving our relationship with news and politics.  

The rule of thumb I have in mind is a simple one that dates back at least as far as the ancient stoic philosophers. You've probably heard some version of it before. Here it is; focus on the things you can control, and ignore the rest. That’s it. Simple right? But this little piece of stoic wisdom has helped many people, even emperors like Marcus Aurelius, to navigate through the complexities of life, and I think it’s applicable to our modern relationship to news and politics. 

Here’s how I would put the point; You wanna focus your intellectual and emotional energy on what’s actually going to help you live well. This means tuning out the vast majority of the constant stream of news and political controversies available, and focusing primarily on topics that effect your choices and your sphere of influence.  

This could still include some causes that you’re particularly passionate about, and that you’re able and willing to do something about. But you can’t fix everything. You don’t have the time or energy to be able to. And you’re really not helping anyone by running yourself into the ground dwelling on distant events and controversies that you can’t do much about. Also, there’s a real opportunity cost for spending your time that way, because you could have been thinking about how to improve your own life, or what to do for your sick neighbor, or your depressed spouse. You could have been thinking about how to boost morale at work, or what your company could do to give back to the community. Spending your mental and emotional energy on topics like these that are within your sphere of influence will do far more good for the world than dwelling on news and controversies that don’t help you to lead a good life.  

Also, you could just spend that time and energy doing something relaxing, or fun, that rejuvenates your spirit. Even this can positively impact the people around you. In a world filled with so much depression, anxiety, pessimism, and negativity, it can be sooooo refreshing and life-giving to be around someone who is at peace, who’s happy, who can laugh deeply, and who is comfortable in their own skin. You’ve felt that before right? It’s just a huge breath of fresh air to be around someone like this. This is one reason why I think the healthy, happy, and not-burnt-out version of you is what’s best for everyone in your life. So you better have a damn good reason if you're going to do things that get in the way of this mindset. And I just don’t think there is good enough reason for you to burden yourself with every tragic event and controversy that arises among 8 billion people.  

By focusing your intellectual and emotional energy on what’s actually going to help you live well, you can be a happier, healthier, and more effective person.  

 

---interlude--- 

 

Perhaps I’m understating the importance of staying informed about world events. I think the best objection to my reasoning is that it’s important to stay informed so that you can talk about these problems with others. Even for issues that are outside of your own sphere of influence, talking about them can be beneficial for raising awareness, which could create enough collective pressure to bring about change. You also might be able to convince someone who can do something about it, like a politician or someone who’s closer to the issue.  

Something is right about this objection. Raising awareness of an issue and wielding the power of collective action to bring about change has led to highly beneficial political movements, like the civil rights movement. Also, you really might be able to convince someone who can implement your ideas. So there’s always the potential that your political involvement can bring about positive change. However, it’s still crucial to keep in mind the opportunity cost of investing huge amounts mental and emotional energy into each new political debacle. If you really want to do good for the world, you’ll usually get a lot more bang for your buck by using that time you spend getting riled up on Facebook or Twitter on improving your own life and the lives of people within your sphere of influence. Sometimes there will be a political cause worthy of your attention, but many won’t be, and remembering the opportunity cost of using our energy in that way can help us to know the difference. 

I want to read you a poem about this trade off. I’ll tell you who the author is afterwards. Here it is: 

There’s many Men forget their proper Station, 

And still are meddling with th’ Administration 

Of Government; that’s wrong, and this is right, 

And such a Law is out of Reason quite; 

Thus spending too much Thought on State Affairs 

The Business is neglected which is theirs. 

So some fond Traveller gazing at the Stars 

Slips in next Ditch and gets a dirty Arse.  

 

The author? Benjamin Franklin, one of the most important politicians of all time. I think it’s interesting that even he recognized the problem of people neglecting their own affairs for the sake of political debate.  

 

I hope this episode helps you see some of the reasoning behind my topic selection here on Virtue Vibes. There’s tons of political questions and world events that really are important, but I want to focus on topics that the vast majority of my listeners can act on. For example, you could choose to scale back on your news intake this week, which could free up some energy to be able to relax or to think more about how to improve some relationship in your life. That choice is yours to make. But by focusing on topics like this, I’m hoping that you walk away feeling like listening to Virtue Vibes was a good use of your time and energy, which is so very precious.