This year I’m giving up online news for Lent I don’t always give up something. Sometimes I add something on. A couple of years ago I gave away money every day. Last year I wrote a thank you note every day. I’ve even given myself a treat a day for Lent.
It’s never hard to decide what my Lenten practice should be. Once the idea comes to mind, it’s clear what I should do. The year I decided to give money away every day for 40 days, I knew it was the right thing, because immediately I knew I didn’t want to do it! It would be a sacrifice, and that would be in the spirit of Lenten practice. It was one of the most powerful disciplines I’ve taken on.
Over a year ago I decided I would only read paper news. It’s a cooler medium. I don’t listen to radio news or watch television news. I would read our newspaper, The Oregonian, and The Economist (it’s a weekly, and British so has a somewhat outside perspective on U.S. news).
Well. I didn’t keep it up. I got seduced by a $19 subscription (for a year!) to The Washington Post. I’ve also gotten intrigued by FiveThirtyEight. And recently I discovered that The National Review provides a well-written and thoughtful conservative perspective. (Note: I’m not providing links to these sites! I don’t want you to get sucked in, too…)
All these sites keep posting things all day. It’s addictive. It’s distracting. And it doesn’t help me focus on my goals, which have to do with increasing my ability and opportunity to help leaders like you.
So, the idea came to me: Give up online news for Lent. Go back to baseline: reading paper news. I knew it was the right thing for me for Lent. Then I came across this article by Shane Parrish (my new favorite blogger): Why You Should Stop Reading News. Everything he writes is interesting, but this one was brilliant and timely (even though he wrote it a few years ago).
Parrish says: “…most of what you read online today is pointless. It’s not important to your life. It’s not going to help you make better decisions. It’s not going to help you understand the world. It’s not going to help you develop deep and meaningful connections with the people around you. The only thing it’s really doing is altering your mood and perhaps your behavior.” I run into a lot of people who are upset all the time because of the news. Sometimes I’m one of them.
I’ve also been listening to the audio version of The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. It’s a conversation between Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama. It’s the opposite of what Shane Parrish describes as the news altering your mood. Rather, these two spiritual leaders describe how to live in such a way that your mood is not dependent on what is going on around you. They acknowledge the challenges, but lift up (and demonstrate) the possibility of great joy.
The news doesn’t help me live joyfully. It doesn’t help me carry out my calling in the world. Sometimes it does just the opposite. I’m going to keep reading my paper sources. But for the next 40 days, I’m staying off the news sites. And I’m using Social Fixer to manage what I see on Facebook so I don’t get hijacked by someone else’s outrage.
Do I think we should withdraw from the world? Of course not. However, I want to engage in thoughtful ways, not determined by the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the 24-hour news cycle.
What do you think? How do you manage yourself in the face of the onslaught of news?
P.S. For a positive alternative, check out Lent Madness. It’s a fun version of the March madness basketball bracket, using saints.