Necessary Filters

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.

37 thoughts on “Necessary Filters

  1. I think you make a very important point. I need to follow the news closely for my job but had a bad overload of new because of it. I have now found a new balance between updating on the most important parts of it and being ok about not knowing the intricate details. It’s very liberating and relaxing. Ok, sometimes I do worry about missing something monumental, but I guess if I do I will find out about sooner rather than later. 🙂

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    • Yes, the big news tends to find us, whether we look for it or not. I used to feel guilty for “shutting out” some of the bad news, but honestly, all it was doing was ruining my day and making me unable to deal with the people and issues around me appropriately. So now, I try to figure out if the news is a) something I need to know, and/or b) something I can help with. And if it’s not, I try to just move on. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. Sounds logical to me. By way of an analogy, I am constantly reminding people that because I don’t give to a specific cause does not mean that I am insensitive to it. As in your “negative overload” scenario, one can only give what one can. I am heavily committed to a number of local charitable operations so I would have to decline cancer research, Plan Canada and numerous other perfectly valid organizations. For some reason, that rationale is not often understood!

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    • I know, everyone thinks their particular cause is the only cause! But we have limited time and resources, and we all get to choose how we spend them. I think learning to respect other people’s limitations is a big part of what it means to be an adult. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. You’re also protecting your state of mind. I agree with you Ann and tend to filter out much of the news, particularly if it’s negative and destructive and we can’t do anything about it. I don’t believe we need to know everything. Great post.

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    • Yes, if I can’t do a thing about it, I don’t really need to know about it. I always want to do all I can, wherever I can, to make this a better world. But I also have to remember that I have very distinct limitations, and I don’t do anyone a favor by forgetting that. And getting completely overwhelmed by all the problems in the world doesn’t help anyone. Thanks, Miriam!

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  4. Great post, Ann. I know I’ve chosen to turn on the tv in the morning to see if there is anything happening that I need to know but after that I listen to music or choose something else that makes me happy. As you said, I don’t need 12 different people telling me the same thing 12 different ways. It’s overload. I’m not interested in all the gory details or analysis. It’s too much and it will ultimately affect our mood.
    Very well said.

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    • That’s what I do too, George! I turn on the news just to see what the big stories are, and if there is anything I need to know about. Then I turn it off, before I am in such a rotten mood that I am no good to myself or anyone else. It really is okay, I think, to protect our mental and emotional well-being. And in this age of information overload, it is also necessary.

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    • I have just recently begun to think of it this way, too. It is a different world we are living in now, and I guess we have not choice but to make the adjustments!

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  5. I struggle with that, too. I can’t handle feeling deeply about every crisis I see in the news, regardless of how much it deserves attention. I have to numb up and choose what I will do to improve the world and focus on that.

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    • Exactly…I don’t think we have ever had access to quite so much information before, and it quickly becomes overwhelming, because we have no way to address or solve all the problems we hear about. So we have to choose what we ARE able to do to help, and stick with that. But it’s definitely a learning process!

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  6. Great post! I liked your sense of humor with the pants :). I get stressed out from watching too much of the “bad” news and it effects the mood as well. Being able to filter it does helps a lot.

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    • I think we are just so much more connected than every before, which is both good and bad. And the “six o’clock news” has changed to 24 hour news, to say nothing of my Facebook feed. And I think that means we just have no choice but to filter it a bit! Thanks!

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    • Thank you for the kind words! I think there is just too much information, especially negative information, for us to process some days. And for now, a personal filter is the only way I can think of to deal with it!

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  7. I stopped watching the news and TV (except for HGTV and an occasional movie) a long time ago for all the reasons you stated, plus I believe it brain washes us. If it were up to me I’d get rid of it entirely but my husband won’t let me.

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    • I can understand that! It does seem as if most news shows are designed to keep us afraid of the world and angry at anyone who is different from us! And the other shows are hardly worth watching…

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  8. I’d agree with the need for filters due to information overload, but I’d also suggest that the filters many people are using these days are just making societies problems worse – they only hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. This unbalanced filtering both gives people an unrealistic perception of the big picture and polarizes them towards a particular mindset without an understanding of valid opposing viewpoints. Unfortunately, all too often media broadcasts the sensational that runs negative rather than a balance, so it can be hard to find a true picture.

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    • Yes, I think the trick is to use the filters to limit how much negative information we receive (so that we are actually able to handle it), but not to “filter out” any information that challenges our personal point of view. Sadly, too many people do seem to do just that…if they hear a fact that doesn’t fit into their beliefs, they just disregard it. And as you say, the media seems to encourage that sort of thing, whether deliberately or not, I’m not sure. Thanks for the comment!

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  9. I turn off my radio sometimes. I think I read somewhere there’s a societal depression from this very thing: so much bad news we are bombarded with every day. It can really get to you after a while. We do have to stay aware so we keep engaged and keep doing things to keep our planet healthy, but I think it’s pretty darn obvious what those things are without hearing them over and over….

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  10. You are so right, Ann. I have come to a similar determination that I call detachment. I simply disconnect. There is only so much I can handle, or take in, or accept, or whatever, and it isn’t that I don’t care; that is far from the truth. I find I lose me in the fight to keep up with it all, and that ain’t good. Part of taking care of me–so I am better equipped to care for my family–is to make sure I have down time where I shut it all out. Great post! 🙂

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  11. I have a talk radio host out of Atlanta I like to listen to when I can. When I have cable (and currently I do not) I turn on the news in the morning, but that’s it. And, unless something big is going on, I do not listen to the news over the weekend. One has to give themselves a break.

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  12. I have a lot of sympathy with your point of view. I think another issue with watching too much negative news is that it can make us more fearful than can really be justified by the facts. People (including myself) find it statistics and probabilities difficult to grasp, and so suffer massive anxiety about, say, getting caught up in a terrorist attack, but then think nothing of using a cellphone while driving, even though their changes of being killed by the latter are far, far higher.

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  13. My mom and I have this debate constantly. She thinks I am not aware of what’s going on in the world because I no longer have a TV. While I think she is so obsessed with the news that it’s the root cause of her stress without realizing it. 10 mins of news is good. Anything more just too much… My brain and heart just can’t handle it.

    Yes, filters are absolutely necessary. And in this case, a must, to maintain good mental health.

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