Sometimes, it’s easier to understand something by looking at its opposite. Contrast provides stark clarity and increased awareness. So this week, we introduce a new segment, A Mindless Moment, to help strengthen our mindfulness practice.
You might have heard about a TV station in Ohio that interrupted regular programming to provide a severe weather update last week. The meteorologist warned viewers of an imminent tornado threat to the area, and indeed, within hours, the region was hit by a series of destructive tornadoes, killing one person.
The TV station and the meteorologist were immediately attacked on social media for interrupting the reality show, The Bachelorette. Viewers were outraged over missing the program and accused the meteorologist of allowing his ego to run out of control by eating up 45 minutes of their Bachelorette time to warn them of pending danger. One viewer tweeted that they understood a tornado was coming, but to get off the air so she could watch her show.
As is frequently the case, the mindlessness didn’t end there. The Emmy winning meteorologist lashed out on air at the hail of criticism, angry that people didn’t seem to understand that he was trying to keep them safe. He told them that he was “done with them” and that “the whole situation was pathetic.”
Naturally, these days, the Bachelorette fans then tweeted his ranting video back out to the cosmos, with one stating that she felt personally attacked by the meteorologist. He later apologized, but of course, the damage was done.
There’s so much to unpack in this it’s hard to know where to begin! As a society, we are in a challenging place when it comes to practicing mindfulness. There are many, many people today who choose to remain distracted through any vehicle available, and entertainment and social media provide a steady stream of distraction.
I’m not judging the meteorologist or the fans. First, I don’t watch reality TV, not because I’m such an intellectual, but just by a stroke of fate, my daughter happened to be in performing arts school back in the days when reality TV was first introduced. We were all fascinated by Survivor when it came out, as we’d never seen anything like it. One of her first acting jobs was on another new reality show, one of the first preceding the explosion of such shows. And she was told what to say, where to move, how to react. Ummm, reality? Sounded like a regular TV show, but blanketed with a layer of deception. So, I never made it past the first season of Survivor, and have never watched the rest of the genre, and therefore can’t really empathize with these viewers about the show itself; but I can certainly understand escapism. However, when I lived in tornado country many years ago, I will say that when the alerts came on the TV, I didn’t wait around to see the end of a program. I grabbed my kids and we headed for the basement!
As for the meteorologist, he was providing an important service that could save lives, but did he need to take 45 minutes to do it? It may not have been his choice how long he stayed on the air, but the network’s, and I might have given him the benefit of the doubt, had he not lashed out at his viewers. That does sound like an egotistical rant, with a big dose of defensiveness thrown in. So, I could relate to how the Bachelorette viewers related to the news station. I gave up on watching the news years ago, once most networks dissolved their news divisions and moved the news under the entertainment division. It shifted from informative, to sensationalized stories, to bringing in advertising dollars. And I admit that I get very aggravated after an earthquake occurs here in SoCal, as the news stations interrupt programming to spend what seems like hours taking calls from residents to ask them what they felt. They felt shaking! Why do we need to hear 50 people say the same thing over and over? And unlike tornados, there is no warning for earthquakes, so what is the point of discussing it after the fact?
I can also relate to the meteorologist’s frustration with his viewers. I have to continuously check my judgments related to people’s use of electronic devices and social media. As I’m trying to teach something in a workshop, their noses are pressed to a screen. But mindfulness is non-judgmental, so I try to self-correct my thoughts that we are a crumbling civilization at this point and shift toward compassion for people who seek pure escapism over dealing with the real reality of life today.
This moves us into what can feel like disturbing space. First, what is real anymore? The fact is, we’re now debating what a fact is. We are living in a world of transition and just like previous major transitions, it’s hard. People have figured out that the old adage - if you say it repeatedly and loudly, people will believe it - is unfortunately true. "Fake news" is shouted by someone, at some point, every day. What information can we trust? And if we can’t trust any information, isn’t it just easier to escape into The Bachelorette?
This is where mindfulness becomes so important. Mindfulness is an expanded awareness of what is happening within us and around us. As we experience starkly mindless behavior, instead of reacting in anger or frustration, we step back and reflect. We consider more than one possibility. We dive deeper into the underlying causes of behavior and we accept our participation or contribution to whatever is happening around us.
The truth is, TV networks, cable networks, and streaming services are businesses that respond to market demands. And we are the market. So as long as we prefer escapism and are inevitably drawn to excitement, negativity and shock value, they’ll keep “giving us” what we “want.”
Why are we so drawn to negativity? It’s all ego. The ego is always on the lookout for danger, even though we’re rarely in actual danger. The ego, however, doesn’t discern between real danger and the inherent stress response we all have. If we’re excited by an argument online, it kicks off the stress response. If that argument is directed toward us, it kicks off the stress response even stronger and we’re compelled to “fight back.” If we keep hearing about the effects of an earthquake, it feeds the ego’s needs. Danger, warning, fight. The ego loves the perpetual downward spiral of our negative behavior, because it provides the ego with the fodder it needs to do its job.
Why are we drawn to look at an accident on the highway? If you asked a typical person, do they want to see a maimed body on the road? Unless psychologically damaged, the answer is consistently no. But don’t you feel compelled to slow down and look as you pass an accident? That’s the ego. “Look at that. That could be you!”
I recently had another encounter with a difficult client who tends to act on impulse, then when presented with information that the action was not the best choice, lashes out and blames others. This time, I didn’t point it out, even though it directly impacted me. It’s not that I didn’t want to. I had a strong desire to either pick up the phone or send an email and very clearly point out how mindless the latest action was. But I recognized that the desire was purely ego. Yes, I’m inconvenienced. But is it danger? Is this person really attacking me? No. I knew this because I tested myself. I wrote an email, but didn’t send it. An hour later, I re-read the email, softened it, and walked away again. The third attempt at editing made it clear that there was no way to convey the message without sparking more debate and anger. My ego just would not let me communicate the situation without interjecting blame or judgment.
So, I walked away from it. In the end, the client is going to suffer more than me over the action taken. I decided it was okay to let that client be responsible for their own actions. I cannot fix everything for someone else. I can only fix or change things about me. I came up with a different solution to resolve the impact the client’s decision had on me so that other clients won’t be negatively affected. I decided my time and my energy, which I consider valuable resources, should not be wasted by reacting to someone else’s ego. And I did my part in not perpetuating a downward spiral based purely on ego.
Is that easy? Nope.
The ego is powerful. It wants justice and revenge. It wants to be right. It wants the world to be fair.
But is that reality or fake news? The world is not fair, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t take responsibility for our own actions that contribute to it being more just, whether for ourselves or others. We can also be mindful of our actions that contribute to negativity in the world, whether by watching entertainment that promotes discourse or violence, or by allowing our egos to engage with others’ egos, when there’s really no benefit to any of the parties concerned.
Be mindful of your behaviors, habits, and social media conduct. Think about what you’re contributing, or not, to the greater good.
For the podcast version of this post, listen here.