The damage of 24 / 7 news – by a recovering news-junkie

A nine-daylong business journey and in a different time zone can be quite gruelling. All those nights sleeping in a bed other than the creature comfort of my own, unremitting restaurant meals (which is why a cruise is not on any of my bucket lists) and much longer working days than typically the norm at home in order to maximize the time and expense of such a trip. I was fortunate this time to squeeze in special moments with some friends I don’t see often and one in particular I have not seen since high school – that was a treat. What was not a treat however was to have access on my hotel room TV to 24/7 news, a service I do not subscribe to on my home cable service. And tragically, on Day 3 of this excursion, the terrorist attacks on Paris took place.

I used to be a news-junkie. Thank goodness I am not anymore. I still consider myself quite informed yet I have become more efficiently erudite at capturing the news I feel I now need to know. I also realize the futility of being so consumed with matters, which I have neither control over nor the influence to change. But I fell off the wagon in the late evenings and early mornings in this hotel room watching and learning every possible angle, explanation, expert, theory, terrorist’s background and “breaking news” story emanating from Paris. And how is it “breaking news” when they reported the same damn thing two hours earlier? Only one channel aired in my room where several dozen were obtainable. I have friends so self-aware that for the sake of their wellbeing either don’t tune in to the news before turning in to bed or don’t watch news at all. They seem to get it better than I.

If one believes – and I consider that most do – that we are psychologically shaped by our experiences and by our immediate environment, then how on earth can we not be negatively influenced by what we watch on the Internet or on TV; be it reality TV, porn or 24/7 news – especially in the aftermath of the recent and gruesome terrorist attacks in France, Lebanon, Mali, Israel and elsewhere? I wrote recently about individuals who possess the uncanny ability of more often than not of seeing the ugliness of the world at the expense of its beauty. Well, watching 24/7 news can certainly exacerbate that negative assessment of life and I think of the anxiety it stirs or provokes in our children. If their parents are so tuned in, you don’t think the kids are tuned in as well? Are we regurgitating all that we have seen on the news in our living rooms and during a family dinner? How could our children not be fearful hearing of possible terrorist cells prowling amongst our environs lying dormant ready to strike the next restaurant, sporting event, house of worship or nightclub nearby? What are we doing? What is the “benefit” of being so plugged-in to 24/7 news?

I am glad to be home and without access to “breaking news”. The world will go on without me observing every gory detail repeated over and over again. In the meantime I will consciously look for the world’s beauty instead. Maybe I will always be a recovering news-junkie – only one hotel stay away from falling back on old habits, but I am becoming more self-aware and endeavouring to change all the time.

Post Paris thoughts: Allowing yourself to hate – harms you

“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.

If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.

Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”

Lao Tzu


Walking amongst the mountains of Canmore Alberta on a surprisingly beautiful spring-like day in mid-November was just what I needed following a terrible Friday night and its aftermath. To detail my opinions here of those events would be nothing short of superfluous at this point.

Hearing the sound of a stream alongside a snow layered trail, or a tree branch rustle after a little creature had visited, or a bird doing what birds do up in the trees, or the sound of snow being crushed under my feet – were the only sounds I could hear beneath the magnificence and majesty of the Rocky Mountains. These resonances temporarily drowned out the noise of hate and intolerance that have been ever so present – not only since Friday night but certainly the chorus since then has reverberated greatly throughout the western world traversing the digital sphere and also into my inbox.

I am becoming more adept at listening and understanding and seeing – at least from my own altering perspective on life. As I encounter intolerance I am learning the truth of Lao Tzu’s wisdom that what is “dark and negative” is within the intolerant and the hater. They only see ugliness in the world and are most critical of others. This speaks as an example to their internal angst, dissatisfaction, jealousy, being trapped in their life or perhaps an unresolved past – something to which I can attest. With this lens they see others adversely that make them this intolerant and agitated soul. Yes bad things and tragedies occur somewhere every day and will continue to do so but our world is not ugly. The beauty of our surroundings, our families and friends, music and art, a fulfilling job or just a paycheque are all blessings that to me demonstrate the splendor of this world. How we see the world is a choice we have.

Having a choice, a choice even how to think is ours. Kute Blackson wrote, “The moment you own your power to choose then you also own your ability to change your circumstance.” That is true empowering freedom. Hating never leads towards love, only more hate, more anger and more of the same. Post Paris many are misdirecting their fear, their disgust and their revulsion – all natural emotions considering what we all saw on the news – but towards innocent people not deserving of it – and into hatred and self-righteous intolerance. And after all, what good is harbouring these thoughts? I know the harm it does.

The mountains of Canmore stood before Friday November 13th. Those soul-touching sounds I heard I believe were there as well. The blessings in your life were there too before November 13th. So today is November 15th – and if you look you can still see the goodness in the world and other people in it if that is your choice.

Finding humanity when we are ready

I was doing business recently with a warm-hearted gentleman who for some reason I liked from the first time we met several months previous. At his place of business this past weekend his lovely 9-year old daughter was crafting and selling bracelets with proceeds going to the world-renowned Sick Kids Hospital of Toronto. I bought a couple for my children. I am grateful that this proprietor decided to share his very personal story with me. At the tender age of six-weeks his precious infant daughter required life-saving surgery. He told me that as one would expect, the families on this special ward became like family to each other. And then one day, he saw one of those fathers in the hospital parking lot placing his child’s wheelchair into the car. The child was nowhere in sight. I immediately sunk into despair. Just like you, I didn’t need to know the name, nor see a picture of the deceased child to feel the intense heartbreak at the human tragedy of a young child’s passing.

In my yet unpublished book, Us versus Us, I penned:

Several years ago I met a wonderful man. His name was Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. I had heard of his story and was profoundly moved. He was a Palestinian doctor from the Jabaliya refugee camp. Tragically, three of his daughters and a niece were killed in a rocket attack in Gaza in 2009. As a father myself I could not fathom the depths of his loss. Certainly this man was entitled to hate. But I was frankly stunned by his generosity of spirit; he refused to hate. “If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I would accept their loss.” I read the book he wrote, I Shall Not Hate, and was deeply affected.

I was conflicted before I brought myself to meet Dr. Abuelaish. I was not quite ready – I didn’t think – to hear firsthand what I expected to be a devastating recounting of personal loss. His calamity took place in a war zone where clear demarcation points of “us” versus “them” were etched in my mind and without room for debate. The good Dr. at the time was in the “them” camp. I was in the other – on the “us” side.

I am finishing these words aboard a flight en route to Calgary where in a few hours time I will be an honoured guest at the convocation ceremony at the University of Calgary as Dr. Abuelaish delivers the convocation address and have bestowed upon him yet another honorary degree. I have learned much from Dr. Abuelaish. In his venerated presence I saw human tragedy in the absence of racial labels. There is much animosity in the Israeli – Arab – Palestinian ecosystem and in the past I was a part of it – not directly as a combatant or living in the Middle East, but in my run-of-the-mill life, within my social circle and woefully in my heart.  Just as I wrote in an earlier blog concerning a recent visit to Dresden Germany – applying these labels to people we do not know harm us and I believe stunt our growth as decent and caring human beings.

I long for the day where we can all be as easily moved by a death in a war zone as we are by the death of that child at Sick Kids.