The man ran over to the television and got close so he could hear what was being said. I was watching the scene unfold in a restaurant where a television is permanently set to show cable news.
“He just makes me so mad,” the man muttered with intensity. I wasn’t sure whether he was talking to me or to himself, but he was clearly referring to the media personality talking on the screen. He was upset, but the flickering image commanded his attention and his eyes were glued to the TV.
I watched him for a minute and finally asked the obvious question.
“If he makes you so angry, why do you listen so closely to him?” I asked. “Why not just ignore him?”
The man first looked puzzled, as though I had asked him a trick question. Then he finally responded with the tone one might use when explaining something obvious to a child.
“Well, he’s on television,” the man said. “He doesn’t like [my political group] and he’s always saying negative things about us. He’s on the news. I have to know what he says — because he makes me furious!”
I didn’t continue the conversation, partly because the man was fully absorbed with his hatred for the person he was watching on screen and partly because he clearly wasn’t interested in my line of thought. But I’ve been thinking about it now for several days, and it seems as though our media culture has created an entire country of people who hang on every word of the people they hate — just so they can reinforce their hatred.
I’ve known progressives who listen to Rush Limbaugh just to rail against the bombastic conservative radio host. I’ve known conservatives who know the faces of people such as Jesse Jackson and Nancy Pelosi better than they know their own children’s faces, because they spend so much time listening to the words of these people who they hate.
And all the people who do this — or even more moderate versions of it — have handed control of their own emotions over to their enemies.
There are a lot of things in this world to be outraged about, but if you can’t do anything about an outrage, you’re wasting your time to pay attention to it. I still let some things get to me — mostly incompetent journalism and random daily abuse of the English language — but I’m getting better about ignoring things I can’t change. Staying away from news media and focusing on things which you actually do control can relieve a lot of stress. It won’t fix the world, but neither will your rage and frustration.
The job of the news media is to attract an audience. Television in particular thrives on conflict. So news will play up conflicts and magnify the angry extremists who are willing to to to war with one another. It doesn’t accomplish anything other than get millions of people angry — but it drives up ratings and makes money for their bosses.
Most people who care abut politics already have a pretty good idea of which teams they’re rooting for and against. They already know who they hate. So why listen to those media personalities — politicians or talking heads — who you know are going to make you angry?
What are you trying to accomplish? You know you’re not changing anything by watching. Are you just entertaining yourself? Is this the sort of garbage you want to fill your mind with? Do you want to go through life full of anger?
When you listen to these people who make you angry, you are giving them control over part of your life. Why give them that power?
The time we have in this life is far too short. We have time for only a limited number of things. It’s all a tradeoff. The time you spend filling your mind with things that make you angry — and railing against people who don’t even know you exist — is time you can’t spend with people you love or with accomplishing your goals.
It’s your choice how you spend your time. If you enjoy being angry — and you enjoy it more than doing things that make you feel love or joy — that’s your business.
But don’t just fill your mind with this garbage by default. Consider that maybe you’re better off ignoring this media freak show. You might be happier if you take control of your life back from the people who are making you angry.