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  • Writer's pictureDavid OMalley

Time for some beautiful news

I used to travel home often when my mother was alone and often not very well. On waking up I would give her tea and toast and put the paper by her chair. She was generally cheerful and we would chat. But later, when she had read the paper, she became anxious and angry. She told me about all the disasters, corruption, incompetence and cheating in the stories she read. It always cast a cloud over her day and left her restless and fearful. It wasn’t good for her at all to read the newspaper! That’s because research shows that only one in seventeen stories in newspapers are positive, good news. The relentless diet of bad news in the newspapers , repeated all day on radio and TV erode away the natural optimism of the human spirt and take us away from living the Gospel.

All that was years ago. Now we have smart phones that allow our thumbs to take us into “doom scrolling” activity, sliding from one disaster to another, sometimes for hours. There are 5.1 billion smartphone users in the world and a 2019 report suggested that many people are on their phone for up to six hours a day.[1] This dark and negative alley is absorbing a lot of our thinking time. Many of the scrollers or “doom surfers” are young and their view of the world is shaped by this negative output. Allowing someone else to describe your world is like losing control of a car, you may lose all sense of direction and of reality. When we scroll, we become hyper focused on threat and danger, we are constantly on high alert and likely to become chronically anxious. We are likely to become overly suspicious of others, fearful of the future and become less confident about key relationships. In Salesian terms, we could lose our souls: that spark, that sense of self which connects umbilically to the mystery of God.

Each time we scroll through sad and negative stories, drawn on by curiosity and perhaps by a dark pleasure in imagining disaster and deception we join Alice as she tumbles down the rabbit hole

Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again. The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

This image captures the connection between an innocent curiosity that draws a scroller into an ever faster slide into darkness. A recent study[2] found that 16.5% were at serious risk of major health problems through their scrolling which becomes a vicious spiral drawing people deeper into the rabbit hole. The study found that such people were:

1. Becoming absorbed in news content

2. Being preoccupied with negative thoughts about the news

3. Attempting to reduce anxiety by consuming more news

4. Finding it difficult to avoid the news

5. Having news consumption interfere in their daily life

Perhaps this is the reason why many people lost confidence in vaccines, why millions believe in QAnon conspiracy theories. The deeper we fall down the rabbit hole, the more gullible we become. The result is that someone else is directing our thinking, pointing us to a world view that may be quite distorted.

Practical steps to protect yourself from going down the rabbit hole include:

· Set a time for your scrolling

· Look with an intention

· Avoid time wasting sites

· Save links for later, don’t open them

· Monitor your mood as you scroll

For Christians, scrolling should take place in a world view where difficulties happen, disasters spring upon us, people let us down and yet we believe that God knows the plans he has for us, plans for peace and not disaster.(Jeremiah 29.11) Perhaps St Paul, has the antidote to doom surfing when he writes:

"Finally, brothers, let your minds be filled with everything that is true, everything that is honourable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love and admire -- with whatever is good and praiseworthy."

This is an antidote to anxiety and foreboding because it attempts to re-frame the world view of the Christian around what is working, going well and hopeful. Focusing in this way provides energy, faith and resilience to address the things that are wrong with our world. Focusing only on what is going wrong eventually undermines faith and hope in the future and makes it less likely that we can reshape things like climate change or improve mental health for example. We need buoyant hopeful and realistic people who see more that the 95% of bad news on line and in the papers.

Don Bosco, like many educators, wanted young people to focus on what is good. He also said that the better is the enemy of the good and wanted people to praise goodness wherever it appeared. Living gratefully, counting one blessings, is a way to spiritual and mental health that we ignore at our peril.

So I want to leave you with some good news that you wont read in the papers or in the rabbit holes of the doom scrollers. It comes from a book called "Beautiful News" by David McCandless. For each statement you might want to thank God that there is good news to be celebrated and recommit yourself to doing good rather than wringing your hands about the sadness of life.

Some Beautiful News!

1. In 1820 43% of children died before the age of 5. Today the figure is 3.7%

2. Women have the vote in 98% of the world. In 1930 it was only 15%

3. In the last decade global hunger has steadily decreased

4. We have decommissioned 85% of the world’s nuclear warheads since 1986

5. Every hour the world is adding 70,000 solar panels to energy production

6. Pakistan has met its climate goals one decade ahead of the UN deadline

7. Life expectancy is increasing in almost every country

8. UK coal use has declined from 43% 0f energy in 2012 to 1.7% in 2020

9. Smoking is declining in 88% of the world’s nations

10. During lockdown 1million people volunteered to support the NHS

[1] Hootsuite Digital Report 2019 [2] Bryan McLaughlin, Melissa R. Gotlieb & Devin J. Mills (2022) Caught in a Dangerous World: Problematic News Consumption and Its Relationship to Mental and Physical Ill-Being, Health Communication, DOI: 10.1080/10410236.2022.2106086

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