February 25, 2020

How to Take a Step Back

“We live in fraught times. Okay, that’s a cliché. Maybe the “fraughtest times”? “An age of adrenaline”? Trade wars and shooting wars wax and wane. Monsoons inundate Midwestern farms while Congress dithers over disaster aid. Constitutional checks and balances have broken down. President Trump refuses to deal with Congress until House Democrats renounce their oversight responsibilities. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi condemns his refusal as a “cover-up.”

You can drop the news channels. Close the newspaper. Turn off the computer and the radio. That won’t stop the media reporting every word and deed of fabulists and fools. Of course, we look and listen. As Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend and Democratic presidential candidate, observed in a recent interview, the president’s ability “to command the attention of the media…is mesmerizing.” It’s “hard for anyone to look away,” including himself, he admits. Why so hard? “It is the nature of grotesque things that you can’t look away.” Frazzled citizens need some downtime from all the threats, lies, name-calling, and grandiose claims. Admit it! It’s hard to change the channel.

The media, increasingly aware that this constitutes obsessive behavior, inserts self-help advice among the tweet reports. Here are some recent tips I have encountered. First, recognize the very limited capacity of your attention span. How can it function properly, focus on anything, when it is taken up with the ins and outs of conflicting White House words and deeds, the feints and thrusts of Congress, the hits and misses of twenty-four Democratic presidential candidates, and the ducking and weaving of administration officials caught between the law and the tweets? We are, after all, fight-or-flight creatures; we can respond to one danger, but ten is too many. Center yourself. Set time limits on any discussion about the president’s daily headlines. Get off Twitter. Do not roll your eyes. Change the subject.

Second, relieve your anxieties with good deeds. From a neighbor, this idea: she asks friends to observe her birthday by doing a good deed, maybe more than one. Her hope is that many, many good deeds on the same day might buoy our spirits and inch the nation…”

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