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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  It was the Worst of Times, it was the worst of times
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Friday, May 4,2018

It was the Worst of Times, it was the worst of times

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  

Whenever I hear that “things have never been worse!” all I can do is roll my eyes. It is certainly true that our political sphere is experiencing some new kinds of intrigue, but it is not true that turbulent political times have never existed. And sure, there are sectors of the economy that are struggling, but this is also not new, just perhaps a new sector. There are plenty of historical time periods that I am glad I missed. The “now more than ever before” cliché is overused and misleading. Challenging times? Yes . Unprecedented? Only in the way in which they are presenting themselves.

If you look at the way the media has changed over time, it is easy to see why today we find ourselves in another revolutionary kind of time period. Twitter, Facebook, and the never ending 24-hour news cycle create an environment that can be all-consuming and even addictive. This itself is a new problem. But what we are obsessing over is not new. Just new to us as a constant source of stress.

It is an unfortunate reality of our new situation that the news has become just another commodity being bought and sold – some like junk food and some organic – and media corporations are doing what they are supposed to do – make money for their shareholders. Businesses require a dedicated following, and news media has been very good at capitalizing on the passion created in an us vs. them environment. Creating an “other” nurtures a feeling of belonging. Taken a step further, when these “others” are demonized, fanatics (or fans) are created. Fans are the engine that keeps entertainment machines alive. Whether it is a talking head claiming that we have “never before seen this kind of…” or a radio host telling us that we have “never needed to come together like we do now” as they drive a bigger wedge because, of course they mean “we” as in “us” not “them”. The problem, as I see it, is that the message is not as important as maintaining an audience for that message. Thus, the message, which originated (and still tries to sell itself as) news is now just a product to be sold. I think this is important to keep in mind as we raise our fists in anger or sigh in exasperation at the “other side”. But here’s why I challenge the “it’s never been this bad before’” notion.

The printing press was the equivalent of the internet in its day, and the same flurry of political opinions and information, as well as disinformation, set in motion a very exciting and turbulent 400 years. Fast food media is just a new vehicle for the same old tactics, but awareness of this could free us from playing along with someone else’s tune. Demonizing the “other” half because “now more than ever” we need to take action is shortsighted, fear-based, and perhaps a little lazy. All one has to do is READ. Read history books. Read the autobiographies of our founding fathers (and mothers, for that matter). Read about ancient civilizations .Read about the Enlightenment. Read about the French Revolution. Read about the Industrial Revolution and the Gilded Age and progressive movements. Read, Read, and Read some more. Then you will be able to see that all of this chatter on TV, talk radio and the internet is corporations doing what they do best: getting us emotionally hooked on their product.

I am here to tell you, it is not the worst of times. Sure, bad, and even scary things happen, but they always have. Such is life on Earth. Deep down, we all want the same thing: to exercise our right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The first step toward being truly free is to live in the absence of fear. We can’t do that if we are afraid that “the others” are out to get us. The second is to be vigilant about not living in an echo chamber where all you read or listen to is from one or two sources.

Third, tune out at least once per day. There is a reason meditation and yoga are so popular now. If you haven’t already, join that movement. Finally, take responsibility for ensuring that you have perspective. It is not the best of times or the worst of times…. It is 2018 and here we are.

 

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