Sunday, January 16, 2011

If Ignorance was Truly Bliss

There is not a day that goes by that we don't log onto the world wide web and stumble across a news story of some ill-fated characters who are being mistreated, terrorized, and even killed in today's society. Click onto Huffington Post's or any news site and you will be thrust into a whirlwind of horrific and heart-breaking stories: home foreclosures and unemployed America, pedophile priests and abusive parents, dying soldiers and civilians in war torn countries and freak mass shootings by 'extremists'. The perverse focus of modern day media on negativity has left many of us tainted with cynicism and a misanthropic outlook on the world and the many people in it. Is it any wonder we're losing heart in what seems to be a world destined for ruin? How can we shut out the dramatized reality every computer, TV, and newspaper spews out? Perhaps we could just chuck the media sources out the window, return to a simpler life; perhaps we should become Amish.

Years ago a study found that the Amish communities, in their simplistic and isolated society, were statistically significantly happier than the rest of us. Several psychologists and sociologists offered up their reasoning and rationales for the cause of this marked increase of bliss; a lack of conspicuous consumerism or possibly the ease of a less complicated and hurried lifestyle. But the most compelling evidence I had heard was that of absence of social media outlets. Having little to no access to the circus that is the nightly news, many of the more traditional Amish have successfully disconnected themselves from the outside world. Without stories of neighborhood shootings and robberies to strike fear into their hearts, without images of natural disasters and wars worlds away and all the victims that go hand in hand with such tragedies, without all the weight of the violence and hatred in the world bearing down on their shoulders, why shouldn't they be happier? They are, in essence, the ostrich with their heads in the sand.

There was a time when I, in seething protest of the foul manipulation of events and biased reporting, refused to watch the news. Refusing to partake in the brewing storm of scare tactics, refusing to allow two pixelated representations of emotionally disconnected human beings into my living room, I invested my attention elsewhere (usually in reruns of The Golden Girls, and who can be sad when the room is aglow with four saucy female senior citizens?). On the internet, I avoided the home pages of various servers who had the habit of posting headlines and streaming ticker tapes. And I found myself slightly more at peace in this brief hiatus. Without terrifying stories of muggings and rapes, I no longer tiptoed apprehensively through the shadows of my front yard at night. Without the disproportionate coverage of minority crimes, I no longer double-checked the minorities walking by on the sidewalk (yeah, being Mexican I was still checking the Mexicans). Without the countless tears of families and friends crying on camera over a fallen loved one, I was no longer feeling the bog of someone else’s devastation on my heart. Unfortunately, this peace was nothing more than a selfish escape from the real world, and while the Amish are happier, they and people like them are failing our society.

Too often we simply concern ourselves with our immediate environment, the people in our everyday lives, our family, our friends, and rarely give consideration to the others beyond our own little bubbles. The news media is our only window connecting us to the events and tragedies that befall our states, countries, continents, and our globe. Without these outlets, we would have never known of the Haiti earthquake or the Pakistani flooding. We would have never known of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict or that horrific crime against humanity, the Flotilla raid. We would have never known of the tragic shooting that took place in Arizona last week. And without this information, we never could have sent the millions of dollars in aid to natural disaster victims. We never could have lashed out in anger at the Israelis, consequently forcing them to ease off their blockade restrictions and allow the Palestinians some food. We never could have been inspired by the handful of heroic stories as good Samaritans rushed to the scene of the shooting to help whomever they could, in spite of being shot when trying to stop the gunman.

Despite the pain, frustration, and sadness that washes over us when these haunting images flash across the screen, it is human nature to empathize with the plight of our fellow man. It is our obligation to care for one another and help in any way we can. To reach beyond our boundaries, to force open our eyes to conquer our self-induced ignorance is our responsibility as global citizens. Excuse the forthcoming sap that will no doubt cue a Michael Jackson song somewhere, but we are one world, there can’t be divisions and isolation. People need help, and for those of us who are in countries far better off than the majority of the earth, where our worst days could be a utopia for a starving child in a third world nation, we must provide whatever assistance possible. But how can we know who needs help without the media? We cannot allow their blighted stories to destroy our well-being and our sense of security, but neither can we shut them off when the events they’re sharing can be made no more tragic than if we were standing there ourselves.

In my absence from the news media, I still continued to do my part the best I could. I ran a cancer fund for a few years, I donated my time to underprivileged children and juvenile delinquents, and even donated my money to endangered chimps in Tanzania (yeah they need money too, bananas don’t grow on trees, ya know…wait, they do? Crap…well played Miss Goodall, well played). But it wasn’t until I joined the ranks of that queen woman on YouTube that I felt I was a part of an initiative with a global impact, and being a part of that movement required me to dip back into the ongoing world events such as war, terrorism, and human suffering. Then, and only then, could we begin to fight it.

Turning your back on the world and averting your eyes from the pain of others may give you a sense of peace and happiness the rest of us are not afforded, but in the end, it is our consciences that will be cleared when we reach for our wallets, sacrifice some time from our schedules, or simply send out prayers and love to those across the state lines, across the oceans. So enjoy your bliss, Amish dudes, go till your soil and drive your wagons and try to forget us, but don’t forget, when tragedy struck you, we were there.

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