Bad News

I scan the headlines and see all bad news: atrocities, violence, suffering, political strife and malice, economic instability, etc. All that bad news often makes me feel bad. I’ll often spend at least part of an otherwise beautiful morning feeling weighed down by the bad news.

I suppose that feeling is better than indifference or apathy. But still, it can be unsettling.

But it’s important to keep in mind (even though I don’t do it as often as I should) that those stories are not newsworthy because they’re common. They’re newsworthy because they’re rare. The news stories that are the most upsetting, shake us because they are events far outside the everyday norm to which we’re accustomed.

We need to give ourselves more credit than we do. Even though it may seem counter intuitive, we live in the best conditions humanity has ever had. There is less violence, less poverty, less suffering, less hunger, less war, less injustice, than at any time in history. And conditions continue to improve.

I always get push back when I make that claim (which is objectively demonstrable). Progressives may interpret it as being insufficiently sensitive to the suffering in the world, and conservatives may interpret it as being insufficiently appreciative of the past. But I stand by it. Although there are places of extreme suffering in the world today, the average person in the world at any time in the past would happily trade places with the average person today.

That is not to say that things are all going swimmingly. Of course not. There is still way too much violence, poverty, suffering, hunger, war and injustice in the world and it is a good thing that our consciences and sympathies remain attuned to them. We have plenty of good work to do to make the world into the place it is designed and destined to be. But despite what we may be led to believe, we’re not sinking ever deeper into misery, violence and decay. It’s a bumpy road, with some frightening detours, but it leads upward.


23 comments on “Bad News

  1. Sue says:

    Good point!
    I , too, get depressed reading the news. There is the temptation to just ignore it all (is that even possible anymore?), but then “the bad guys” would win—I believe that’s called apathy.
    But your words will help. I guess I never thought of it that way.
    Have a wonderful weekend, Bill

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] (See Bill’s post this morning on a similar train of thought) […]

    Liked by 2 people

  3. bobraxton says:

    silence solitude stillness

    Liked by 1 person

  4. daphnegould says:

    My mother was visiting recently and told me we were in the Golden Age. Though she thought we weren’t going to get any better. I disagreed with her as like you, I think we are on an upswing. It could indeed all come crashing down, but I think humanity has the potential to grow. Technology is really a double edge sword. It is what is driving both the good and bad in our society. I’m very hopeful for the good.


    • Bill says:

      I choose to be very hopeful too. I firmly believe things will continue to improve. We mess up a lot and often take a step backwards before moving forward again, but over time I think we tend to do the right thing. I agree that everything could come crashing down and we still have a dangerous route to navigate. But I’m confident that we’re heading in the right direction and that history supports that confidence.


  5. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I rarely read the newspaper or watch the news on TV. Most of my informative local and global news comes from the short radio clips or from talk radio as I’m driving from one place to another. It’s enough exposure to keep me informed on world and local events but not an over load of depressing information. I’d rather think more about the positive than the negative. I find it interesting that people gravitate toward the bad news stories. News channels have tried to have segments of positive news but found that very few wanted to hear it. In some ways that is a sad thing.

    I subscribe to a blog that posts pictures of past days with a short comment about the picture. Each week has a theme. This week is about the 1930s. The picture for today was a mother and two kids standing in front of their house. I challenge any one to say that times now are worse than what folks had to endure during the 1930s in this country. In the picture the family was bare footed and dressed in shabby clothes. The house behind them looked as though it was slapped together with scraps of wood. Today it wouldn’t even be given a thought for even a chicken house. There was no government cushion to help those that were unemployed, without food, or sick. Some would say, “Let’s go back to those days when life was simple.” It’s a Pollyanna dream that those times were better than today. Yes, we have major problems in the country right now but I agree that life here in this country is ever so much better than a generation ago when the soil was so dry that it blew away and the world was at war for many years.

    Have a great positive news day.


    • Bill says:

      We’re strangely attracted to bad news and, even more strangely perhaps, to arguing over political opinions. I don’t want to ignore bad news, but I do want to keep in mind that bad news is the rare exception, not the norm. For every horrible atrocity there are countless acts of kindness that never make the news.

      It seems that humanity has always been prone to romanticizing the “good old days.” About 250 years ago John Wesley wrote a sermon criticizing that tendency and about 3,000 years ago Solomon (or whoever wrote Ecclesiastes) warned against it (“Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?'”)

      Just last night I was talking with my mother and aunt about my Grandfather’s experience during the Great Depression. They said he never ate cornbread when they were growing up because that’s all his family had to eat during “the Hoover days.” I’ve heard lots of people around here talk about how desperate those days were.

      And consider that while conditions in the 30’s were worse generally than conditions in the 20’s, conditions in the 50’s were better than those of the 20’s. Conditions in the 50’s were better than those at the turn of the century, even though we’d had two world wars and a great depression during that time. And conditions today are of course better than then. This is generally true all over the world. I can’t recall the exact statistic but in 1800 the odds that a person on earth would be living in severe poverty was about 90%. Today it’s about 10%.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. avwalters says:

    Bad news is like gossip. We’re not meant to dwell–just to learn from the mistakes of others. (Hmmm, where was he when the tree came down? What cuts did he use.) Really, good questions are instructive, not mere rubbernecking. Same too, for the planet. It’s true that we have the potential to extend “this Golden Age” to everyone. It’s a precipice, though. All this good living has brought our lovely home to the edge. We must take the knowledge we have and spread it far and wide. Not just sustainable, but regenerative agriculture, less consumption and earth friendly alternative energy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Yes, well said and I fully agree. Much of our progress has come through practices that are not sustainable indefinitely (and that are no longer necessary to maintain a decent quality of life for all). We have to know when to take our foot off the gas. If we don’t, we’ll pay a steep price. Bill McKibben’s book Deep Economy is an excellent take on this, in my opinion.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. I agree. I think we forget how very close to hunger the majority of humans have lived for most of history and pre-history. Disease, poverty, despotism, tyranny, lack of hygiene, lack of tolerance, lack of communication, religious hypocrisy, etc etc. We forget that those with enough food and comfortable shelter were the elite of their communities – they were the exception. The norm was the fast “unwashed” people with no permanent shelter, very little food, and of that even less variety. People died of disease, injuries, childbirth and more. Children were not the treasured darlings that we thankfully have now – they were a paradox – extra mouths to feed, but potential additions to the labour force – their hard work might secure a bit more food for the family. War, territorialism, vicious penal laws (and a very harsh legal system), corruption, rape, pillage, wild animals. The world wasn’t a terribly safe place for most of history. Yes we have plenty of bad news these days, and plenty of wrong, but it certainly ain’t like it used to be. Which doesn’t make it better for those living in terrifying circumstances, but should make the rest of us appreciate what we have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Yes, exactly. Well said. Things that now are shocking news stories were in fact the norm for much of human existence. I think we’d do well to stop expecting the worst, and particularly to quit thinking that decay and decline are inevitable or natural. We’d do much better, in my humble opinion, to expect the best and to put our shoulder to the wheel to do our part to make the world a better place.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. EllaDee says:

    Interesting about bad news. It sells newspapers and TV time… so we see a lot of it, over and over, analyzed, reviewed & compared historically, opined and editorialized… but in the past few weeks the highest rating TV show here hasn’t been current affairs or news but… wait for it… cat-dog-pet-animal videos… taken from the ‘net and televised. We love cute & happy more than bad news. We are only human after all.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Absolutely. Thank you for this reminder.


  10. Nice reminder! I often wonder about the horrible things in the world and how they have truly been happening (in some shape or form) forever…we simply have the ability to access them and spread the news about them now (sometimes even in real time), which increases our awareness (and sadness, anger, and fear) and can decrease our sensitivity to it all. You are right about the good in the world, too, though…which is equally accessible and moving, but can sometimes be harder to seek out if you’re not intentional about it. The trick is to be intentional about it πŸ™‚ Cheers!


    • beeholdn says:

      Ha, read that as “The trick is to be intestinal about it.” O dear.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Yes, I agree. I’m not as good about it as I should be, but I try to remind myself (especially when I have some ugly news story on my mind) that we are constantly surrounded by beauty, love and kindness. It hurts when that natural state is interrupted by meanness or violence. But we mustn’t dwell all the time on the infrequent bad things while failing to appreciate the everyday goodness that is life. I want to become so intentional about living that way that it becomes fully natural. I’m not entirely there yet, but I’m working on it! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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