Sturm und Drang

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A Noiseless Patient Spider

A few weeks ago we did something we seldom do. We watched the local news.

I was particularly interested that day in what the guestimate for rain was because I wanted to make best use of the damp ground to pull the winter weeds from a couple of flower beds. If you hit the dampness factor just right, it’s not a difficult job. So, I tuned in to a local station rather than just going with the various reporting services I customarily use because I thought I might get a better next-door sense of things. It was enlightening.

There was a good looking young man in a nice suit bounding around my screen talking about “threats.” Well, that caught my attention immediately. Last year we lost a 65-foot tree to a storm, so I’m sensitized to “threatening” weather. Add the persistent talk of “threat assessments” in the non-weather news and you have highly charged language.

Fortunately for us, the spring weather has passed by us so far with no damage, and the weeds largely have been dispatched. But my experience with this reporting event got me thinking about our constant state of provoked wariness and what it does to us all.

During the last years of my mother’s life, I would call her every day at 6:30 PM. Yes, after the news. By that time of early evening, I could know how she had made it through the day, what she might need the following day, and that she was safely “put up for the night.” (You say that about horses on farms. She grew up on a farm. She would really have laughed at that!)

Another item I checked on every day was her blood pressure reading. It was under relative control but was powerfully influenced by her emotional state. Far too often, I found that she had watched one broadcast news program or another – with some personality behaving just like the one I had watched – that had left her in a dangerous state of agitation. It then became my job to talk her down from the figurative ledge out onto which they had frightened her before she spun herself up into a health emergency. This constant requirement to moderate the effects of what she saw on TV came rushing back to mind as I listened to the weather presenter’s heated language about what turned out to be described (belatedly) as “showers.” The flashback left me both worried and peeved for all the other frightened mothers and all the other weary daughters, for all of us on a constant simmer of worry.

Please understand: I appreciate having easy access to the news, and it’s not that I’m advocating being uninformed. I want to know what’s going on in my world, and I want other people to know that, too. It makes for better decisions. I agree that knowledge is power and that “(a)n informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.”* What I’m concerned about is the use of an inflammatory tone – anywhere – just to grab attention. It must be a relentless temptation to do that these days since more eyeballs mean more money.

We all know media sources (and probably even have personal friends) who indulge in this tactic, and its consequences are serious. It impacts real live people, not just viewing numbers. When the “threat” level is marginal and a measured “you might want to be aware of…” will do, I would respectfully suggest that those who wield the power of the podium take into account the impact of how they say what they say. There are all sorts of people who will hear “threat” but will be unable to do anything other than fret about it. Their situation ought to be as responsibly considered and weighed as the potential for eye catching.

I also believe that we must monitor our own behavior and be the quiet, considered spot where such elevated language stops. It’s dangerously infectious. Don’t pass it on!

On a recent morning, I looked at my Yahoo news feed and saw nothing other than entertainers I do not follow and stock analyses that were neutral. I gave it a quick skim, noted that no action (or worry) was required, and smiled to myself: “No airplanes crashing into buildings. No market crashes. No tornadoes.”

Those are the real threats against which we measure events these days. We don’t need to create any artificially.

*Thomas Jefferson

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