Good news can make you stronger.
Early Christian storytellers knew this. They took the tragedy of their hero’s execution and turned it into a “good news” story of resurrection. No one today can empirically prove whether or not they made that last bit up, but either way there is plenty of evidence the tactic worked. The good news stories of Jesus are still being told, still giving people strength nearly 2000 years after the Roman Empire tried to put an end to his movement.
This is fairly obvious stuff, right? If you want your team to play well, especially against a tough opponent, you cheer them on. You don’t make them sit and listen to a list of previous errors right before a game.
And yet, we don’t apply this same logic to our communities. Turn on the news and what do we see? A never-ending stream of our worst moments. Crisis, crime, and catastrophe. Here’s an example of what I mean. My local news station creates a daily list of the top nine regional stories on its website. Take a look at these headlines.
- All night parties shut down Hawkeye Wildlife Area to campers (Crime)
- Update on severe weather threat (Crisis)
- Cedar Rapids moves to clear remaining structures on proposed casino site (Good news? Maybe, depending on your view of casinos.)
- Former volunteer firefighter, deputy to serve 13 years in federal prison for torching house (Crime)
- Bird flu wallops poultry producers, wildlife non-profit prepares (Crisis, Catastrophe)
- Former owner of Fragrance Hut to serve 11 years in prison for selling synthetic drugs (Crime)
- Cedar Rapids woman charged after interstate crash (Crime, Catastrophe)
- Anamosa’s sewer system has a big flushing problem (Crisis)
- Healthly Life: Keeping Safe on the Playing Field (Good news? Nope. Crisis.)
If good news makes us stronger, does bad news make us weaker?
Yes. If consumed on a regular basis, negative news stories make people more stressed and less resilient. In some cases, consuming too much negative news can be worse for us than if we were actually involved first-hand in the tragic events being reported. By feeding on stories and images meant to cause anxiety, we train our brains to believe the world is more dangerous than it actually is.
In other words, we psyche ourselves out. Instead of going into the game of life pumped up and ready to take on whatever may come, we fill ourselves with doubt, fear, and suspicion.
So, we should just ignore the bad news?
Not so fast. I’m not arguing for an “ignorance is bliss”, Pollyannaish existence where we simply pretend bad things aren’t happening. That’s no way to create a just and peaceful world. What I would promote is a kind of storytelling that doesn’t automatically default toward reaffirming the belief that our world is going to hell in a handbasket.
Lately I’ve been following this organization called Images and Voices of Hope. They write a lot about a concept called “restorative narrative“. The link provides a fuller description of the term, but the short version for me is those resurrection stories we all need to hear.
Instead of simply showing crisis after crisis, IVOH advocates that media (by which they basically mean all kinds of storytellers) actually show some of what happens when families or communities put their lives back together. This is the kind of news that says, “Yes, this bad thing happened, or is happening, but here’s how we’re going to overcome it.”
IVOH is actually holding a free summit later this month in New York for any media people interested in learning more about restorative narrative and how it can help foster a more resilient society. I’ll be there, and I look forward to learning more about how others are already using these stories in their own communities.
A couple Saturdays ago, as part of my Corridor Characters project I got the chance to interview a handful of refugees at the Catherine McAuley Center here in Cedar Rapids. I talked to one man from Guatemala who left his family as a twelve-year-old boy in order to escape violence and find work in Iowa. (Yes, he started working at age twelve.) I talked to another man who survived the Rwandan genocide (after his family and friends were all killed) by walking several days to Tanzania. He was ten at the time, then had to live in a refugee camp for seven years.
Both of these men’s lives have contained immeasurable amounts of fear, trauma, and hardship, but that’s not the whole story. Today both are safe, married, and dreaming of their children’s future here in Iowa. What might my community learn about itself if we replaced a few of the above headlines with a report about how families from around the world are finding new life and hope in our city?
I am a realist. I do know our media will never completely abandon sensationalized catastrophe. All I’m asking is please, give me the good news, too.Like this? Click to subscribe!