Reducing Negative Input (My News Blackout and Mirror Neurons)
We get bombarded every day. Every angle. I drove 10 minutes across town and saw (or heard) over 70 advertisements. Some not appropriate for kids—but they were still in plain view.
But let’s back up a second.
Over a year ago I stopped watching the news. Call it a news “blackout.”
Some of you will remember the power blackout in 2003. That night I remember walking home from work in Toronto: Strangers directing traffic, people out on their porches, and shop owners giving out water.
I distinctly remember there being no lights, T.V. or computer. That night we sat out on the porch in candlelight drinking a glass of wine. Just talking and laughing. Brilliant.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that when we turn things on, plug in or tune in, we are often subjecting ourselves to a barrage of information.
And most of it is negative.
A huge number of TV shows showcase (and normalize) violence; the internet can be an easy trap and promotion tool for unhealthy appetites… and the news can give an unrealistic perspective of what’s going on out there. Not always, but often.
So I tried an experiment: I stopped watching.
And I don’t miss it a bit. There’s the odd exception when I tune in. I find out that something big is happening through Facebook or Twitter, and sometimes from the radio if I’m in the car. Then I’ll tune in to the news for the top story (like during the Boston Marathon bombing). But then it’s right back off again. Every once in a while I’ll pick up a newspaper.
Here’s where the “mirror neurons” come in.
Christian Keysers has an article about “mirror neurons” in a book called What’s Next? Dispatches From the Future of Science. (He’s a super-smart guy with a Ph.D. in neuroscience.) In it he highlights findings about how our brains operate. Ever feel happy when you see someone else laugh? Or hurt when someone’s in pain? Or how about feeling hungry when you see someone wolfing down a Mars bar? Basically, things we see and take in in our senses are not “out there”—separate from us. The neurons that fire in our own brains when we see and hear someone laugh are the same ones that fire when we laugh ourselves. The body has a way of telling the difference, but the same neurons are working in us as when we see those actions in others. We are actually physically connected.
There are huge implications to this.
When we see violence and negativity all the time our brains are partially functioning as if we were participating in those things ourselves. I think of violent video games, or shows that promote adultery, or music that belittles what it means to be human… the list goes on and on. We are not neutral bystanders. We are affected.
So why not reduce the negative input and increase the positive? It’s good to be intentional about this.
And we need not rely solely on the field of neurology for this insight. Didn’t Jesus say something about “Do to others as you would have them do to you”? (Matthew 7: 12) Our brains seem to be “intuitively predisposed… to this maxim,” says Keysers. Hmmm.
So, does my not watching the news make me unaware of what’s going on out there? Naive? Of course not. I talk to people, see Facebook, get the gist. In our world if anything big happens, you find out about it.
Some of my theolog friends will say, ‘But didn’t Karl Barth argue that we should prepare sermons with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other?’ Not really. What he did suggest in a Time Magazine article was that what happens in the world around us should be interpreted through the Bible.
But too often it’s the other way around.
Try turning down the negative, and turning up the positive. It will change your outlook, and probably your life. Oh, and because of the mirroring effect of the neurons in our brains, you’ll actually change somebody else’s life too.
Image by Takkk.