Practicing Empathy

I recently wrote about empathy, about giving people the benefit of the doubt, and how we really need more of it.

I thought of this as I read an article recently that talked about Trump’s travel ban, and it’s impact on three people. Sadly, this article was taken down shortly after I read it, but I’m assuming it was done to protect the man in Alabama I will discuss shortly.

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Mobile, Alabama

You don’t have to look very far to hear the stories of people affected by it in a negative light, up to and including a US-born NASA scientist. As with many of the news stories about the ban, this article began with the heart-breaking tale of a woman who had aided the US in the Iraqi war, was targeted by terrorists because of it, and trying to get to the US for her own safety. It talked of an American man who’d married an Iranian woman and couldn’t get her and his daughter into the US even though they had green cards.

Remember, if it bleeds, it leads.

Empathizing with these people is easy. The news makes it easy. But none of those events are unique to this story.

What was different, however, was the article spoke of an Alabama man who was happy about the ban. After hearing all the stories of terrorism, he was relieved that something was being done to protect him.

This man hadn’t felt safe at baseball games or even the store. He feared any area where large groups of people congregated because that’s where terrorists struck. He didn’t give up going to his favorite sports events because he thought that would be caving into the terrorists, but he felt truly afraid.

Let’s remember that in fiction, no one usually sees themselves as the “bad guy”. The books on craft drill that into our heads.

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I doubt this gentleman from Alabama saw himself as a “bad guy” either. He truly felt afraid. He wanted to be safe, and he cited the events in France and Belgium as reasons for his fear.

What he didn’t know, what the news hadn’t informed him of, was that the total number of American citizens that died due to terrorism from 1995 to 2014 – that’s twenty years – was 3,503.  That includes the 2,910 people that died on September 11th.

In 2014, 42,773 people died by committing suicide. The really scary stuff?  According to the CDC, in 2013 approximately 610,000 Americans died of heart disease. Yeah. One in four American deaths was due to heart disease.

Had the news given as much weight to things that posed the most threat to this man, terrorism wouldn’t be his top concern. He’d be demanding roasted kale and orange slices (two foods known to help in the battle against heart disease) as he watched his sports games while jogging on a treadmill.

Was this man genuinely afraid?  I think he was. It’s possible this man has never met a man or woman from any of the nations impacted by the travel ban. He may not have ever met a Muslim. Only 0.2% of Alabama’s population is Muslim. It may be difficult for him to separate out “bleeding” new bites from reality.

While each person is accountable for their emotions and how they respond to them, I think the news media also needs to accept some accountability. How many images of terrorist attacks have filled our screens? How many times did we watch the planes hit the towers? See the aftermath of bombings?

And it happens every time there’s an attack. We’re bombarded by images. This becomes our reality, what we fear, rather than heart disease.

I’ve seen some accuse the media of being accomplices to the attackers by helping them spread the fear that their attacks were intended to generate.

I doubt this is intentional.

You see, fear sells. If it bleeds, it leads. And what is more terrifying to us than terrorism? Thinking you’re going to punch the clock like any other day, but instead, a plane is flown into your workplace.

Fear sells.

Not only does it sell, but we’ve become addicted to fear, and for-profit news companies know it. They know how to get us to tune in and keep us coming back.

If you think about Maslow’s Hiererchy of needs, safety ranks as more important than sex. So if sex sells, you better believe fear does. Our ancestors knew this. Go back and look at those original fairy tales if you don’t believe me or the research.

News capitalizes on this, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m avoiding the news.

Was this Alabama man practicing empathy for the people this ban affected that weren’t terrorists? Doubtful. But, I’m betting he was afraid, and if he votes, I’m betting that fear influences his vote.

I know fear can influence me and make me do things I regret or keeping me from doing things that I regret not doing.

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What about you? Do you let fear influence your decisions? Do you watch the news? If so, do you find it be full of fear-mongering?

10 Reasons Science Says We Should Say Goodbye to Social media

As an advocate of science, it’s time for me to say goodbye to social media. Or at least reduce my time spent there and change who I spend it with.

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The blog will continue three times a week, as always. I’ve come to enjoy blogging, especially getting to know other bloggers. But social media is different.

I embarked on the journey into Twitter and Facebook specifically for my writing. Instead of giving me the visibility and platform to succeed as an author, I’ve found it stealing my energy, draining my time, and overall, making me unhappy.

So, if you see me less active on Twitter or Facebook, understand that it’s not you. It’s me.

I can’t handle the barrage coming at me. People asking me why I didn’t “like” something. The stupid feelings of inadequacy because not enough people like or retweet something I posted.

So. Done. With. It.

Besides, the point of social media was to help my writing, not suck insane amounts of time from me that I should be spending writing. Or with my kids. Or my husband. Heck, cleaning the dust bunnies out of the basement would probably be a better and more fulfilling use of my time.

I figured it was just me feeling this way, but after a little research trying to learn how to overcome these feelings, I learned I am not alone in this. A bit more digging into the multitude of research papers out there shows that social media makes us less happy in a lot of ways. This helped me feel better about my decision.

Here are ten reasons research says why we should let go of social media, or at least reduce it:

 

1. You Enjoy Experiences Less

Counter-intuitive, perhaps, but studies show that the act of recording something for social media can actually take some of the enjoyment out of doing the thing you’re sharing. Whether it’s snapping a picture of a delicious dessert, or going to the zoo, studies show you will enjoy it less if you immerse yourself in the experience and don’t worry about sharing it with the world.

Perhaps this isn’t so counter-intuitive. Hard to truly enjoy something if you’re trying to get the perfect shot of your cake before you eat it, and are then worrying how many people will “like” your post and if it’ll be seen as “cool” enough.

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2. You Can Miss Out on the Experience Altogether

Research corroborates what most of us know or have witnessed. That parent too busy trying to get the perfect pictures that they don’t enjoy their child’s first birthday. They’re so busy trying to take pictures of all the cool things happening that they don’t participate. 

Except, social media takes this so much farther. Suddenly all of life’s events must be documented, and the person doing the documenting is missing out.

3. You Do Things You Know You Shouldn’t for the “Like”

I haven’t been on social media long enough to experience this personally, but I ’m not even going to Google how many people died last year taking dangerous selfies. Or what those selfies were.

But think about that. People have died taking selfies.

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4. Instagram Life

Rather than focusing on the good moment, the parts of life that enrich us and nourish us, social media can lure us into focusing on the moments that look good. We spend time chasing the Instagram-worthy times and miss out on some of the very best parts.

I can see this happening if you do post a lot on social media. You’ll never see a picture of me snuggled up in the recliner with both of my girls on my lap and all of us still in our jammies. But let me tell you, it’s my favorite part of the weekend when I can get it, and I’m going to miss it desperately when my girls are “too old” to snuggle.

5. Problematic for Relationships

  75% of people have admitted to being rude and disconnected because of their phone. This results in later feelings of guilt, regret, disappointment or embarrassment. Here’s a sign posted on a daycare door, per my Facebook friends.

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I can’t even imagine . . .  I normally have drop-off duty, but when I do get to pick up my girls instead, the joy of their faces makes whatever happened that day melt away. My preschooler can’t wait to tell me about her day, and my toddler is singing momma, momma and clinging to my leg. To miss out on that, for whatever’s on my phone . . . Please, please take a hammer a to my phone first.

6.  Social Media Feeds Envy

Particularly Facebook, makes people envious of others.  The reason this is particularly true of Facebook is that those in our social network are perceived like us. While you may “follow” JK Rowling or Stephen King or even the President of the United States on Twitter, Facebook tends to be fillwed with people we think of as peers. If all we see are their accomplishments, and never their failures or set-backs, people start to feel lesser about their own achievements.

In a society already inundated with marketers trying to make us feel unworthy unless we buy their product, this is the last thing I need.

Makes me wonder if this related to #4.  If all you ever see if other people’s Instagram life, or the special moments they post on Facebook, you may think that’s the entirety of their life. When, in fact, there’s still dishes to do, laundry to fold, and floors to sweep. 

7. Social Media Makes People Lonelier

My first thought when I read this was that maybe they weren’t doing a solid scientific study. Perhaps lonelier people were naturally drawn to social media. But they’d thought of that and proved that lonelier people aren’t drawn to social media in the first place.

So if you weren’t lonely in the first place, why would experiencing social media make them lonely? There’s some speculation that the lack of deep and meaningful relationships on social media is the driving cause behind this. While social media interactions tend to be more plentiful, they also tend to be more superficial and less fulfilling than other interactions.

Unless, of course, you’re in-person interactions are like those of the parents the daycare posted about.

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8. Social Media Causes Depression

Even just “lurking” can cause negative emotions. Given that depression is the leading cause of disability in the US for people between the ages of 15 and 44, anything to reduce this disease is desirable.

 

9. Social Media is Addictive

Of course it’s addictive.There’s a reason why we keep coming back to it over and over again. Companies like Facebook spend a lot of money keeping it that way. They know what lures us on, what keeps us clicking. Social media companies are for profit organizations. They make money by keeping you on their site. They know how to get your brain to give you a hit of that oh so good dopamine, you know, the neurotransmitter involved in pleasure.

It’s why Candy Crush is worth $6 billion. They know how to get you to spend money on a game one step above solitaire. And how to keep you doing it.

10. Social Media is Boring

Addictive, but boring. I can see this. I’m only half engaged on most social media platforms, anyway. Skimming through feeds, looking for stuff to click “like” on without spending too much time looking at any one thing.

Interestingly, according to the study, boredom is part of what keeps bringing us back.

We’re bored, so might as well check Facebook. We’re still bored, might as well go check Twitter…

 

 

How about you?  What’s your relationship with Social Media? Do you feel like it enriches your life, or is it a time thief? Maybe somewhere in between? Ever suffer from any of the downsides research has shown us social media has?  How did you deal with them?