Having recently returned to DC after two months in a small Maine town, I am struck by our local list serve which serves up regular helpings of reactivity, fear, and anxiety in seemingly real-time postings of disturbing events and interactions. These postings have the same tone and effect as cable news, though the material is different. I am struck also how stories of various types of “assaults” –often merely rude behavior– are posted alongside quotidian queries about restaurants, service providers or events. This mash-up seems only to reinforce our human experience as the matter-of-fact living right alongside the sensational, disturbing, or even terrifying. No wonder, for some many of us, life feels out of control and fearful.
Many of these postings remind me, both in tone and intent, of me and my two siblings, and how we operated when we were kids and upset with each other. In a pique of anger, we might righteously take a sibling “assault” directly to our mother in the expectation that she should “destroy our adversary” or otherwise solve our “problem.” Fortunately, more often than not, our mother would instead put the responsibility back upon each of us and, more importantly, model an emotional calm and sagacity we might learn to appropriate.
It is challenging enough to manage the ever-changing nature of life. Managing media information which by nature plays upon fear is merely the same process but made more difficult by sophistication, speed, and volume. If this flow is emotionally difficult for educated, relatively mindful adults to manage, my heart suffers for anyone, particularly the young, who is caught up in this social communication environment.
It is vital for elders and wise youngers to recognize this pattern and to get a grip on their own emotional reactivities and responses first, and then learn how best to support and teach others to do the same. This will not be easy, but it does provide a great opportunity to evolve an understanding of ourselves, our emotional systems, and the capabilities we can develop to become our wisest, most helpful and most meaningful selves and share this with those who truly need our guidance.