Whenever I hear the term “personal filter,” I immediately think of the filter that needs to exist between our brain and our mouth. You know, the filter that keeps us from saying out loud every single thought that crosses our brain, especially if our words can hurt someone else. It’s what helps us simply think, but not say, “Wow, those pants make your butt look even bigger than it actually is!” whenever one of our friends makes an unfortunate fashion choice. If we want to maintain healthy and positive relationships with other people, having a personal filter is not only a good thing, it’s also a necessary thing.
But lately, I have come to believe that the filter between our brain and our mouth is not the only necessary filter we need. We live in an age of information overload, thanks to twenty-four hour news channels, social media, our cell phones and any other screen device that keeps us constantly in touch with the outside world. And sadly, a lot of the information we receive is not just negative, it’s so negative that it leaves us frightened, angry and depressed.
I was talking to a friend the other day who works for the animal shelter where I volunteer, and she told me that she has begun limiting her exposure to the news, because she already sees the result of too much animal abuse and neglect in the course of her job. It’s not that she doesn’t want to know what is going on in the world, because she does. It’s just that she has learned that there are limits to the amount of negative information she can safely process at one time, so she has become intentional about filtering the amount and type of information that she is receiving. I suspect that is a common trait among those who works in fields where they routinely deal with suffering, human or animal.
I’m not saying that I think we should all “bury our heads in the sand” and ignore the very real problems that exist in the world. Of course we need to know about problems in order to simply protect ourselves, much less actually try to help with the tragedies and solve the problems. But I am saying that I believe it is okay to decide how much negative news I can handle at any given time without being completely overwhelmed, and to filter what I watch, hear and read accordingly.
Personally, I have decided to discern between the news that I need to know because it either effects me and the people I know or because I have the ability to do something about the problem or crisis, and the news that is horrible but I know I can’t do a single thing about it. Even then, I believe it’s is okay for me to screen what I actually see and read about each issue. I want to know about something as horrific as the Yulin Dog Meat Festival so that I can join in the voices of protest against it, but that doesn’t mean I have to actually watch a video of a dog being tortured. Similarly, I can read about the latest terrorist atrocity without actually seeing a photo of a person being burned alive. I don’t need to see all the details to know that there are horrible things going on that need to be stopped.
Having a filter in place between me and all the troubles of the world doesn’t mean I don’t care. It just means that I am recognizing the limitations of my own coping skills, and that I respect everyone else’s right to do the same thing.