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Rumination Versus Action and Responding to Tragedy

August 30, 2017

 

 

Note: With the flooding in Houston, this week we are stepping away from pure performance topics and dedicating this issue to a few thoughts on understanding and dealing with tragedy and the subsequent news-cycle. We will return to our traditional beat next week. 

 

The News, The Internet, And Rumination Versus Action

(Brad's Thoughts from Afar)

 

There is a lot in the world to be concerned about. The disaster in Charlottesville and broader divisions in America. The looming threat that is North Korea. Hurricane Harvey and its awful aftermath. No doubt, these are all legitimate and disturbing issues. And, thanks to modern 24/7 news, we're reminded of them constantly -- but perhaps to no real benefit.

Most have heard of the gawker effect: it's when there is an accident on the road and traffic piles up because everyone slows down to look -- to gawk -- at the accident and its victims. This sort of fascination with something that is awful but not directly affecting us is hardwired into our human nature. It's very hard, if not impossible, to resist it.

The media and the internet (which includes all of us who use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) know about the gawker effect and exploit it often. It finds form in wild and provocative headlines, horrible images and videos, and extreme tweets and Facebook posts. Instead of stopping to look out of our car window, as we do on in-real-life roads, we instead stop to look at our screens, and often click for a chance to look even closer. In the modern economy of attention, the gawker effect is one of the best marketing tools there is. 

The problem is that it's easy to spend so much time gawking, to get so overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, that we become frozen and don't do anything about it. We sit there and scroll and read and worry, but then fail to act -- either because we're too busy scrolling and reading and worrying, or because we feel our individual actions won't make a difference amidst such enormous disasters. We get paralyzed. 

This is a huge problem because the only way any of these issues will change for the better is if people act. The ideal media/internet would make us aware of problems and then prompt us to act. The current media/internet makes us aware of problems and then holds our attention and overwhelms us with angst. 

The only way to counter this is to become aware of it and make some rigid rules for yourself. If you find yourself engaging in what amounts to news-gawking, ask yourself: Is what I'm learning making any difference in myself or in the world? Is it making me feel better about the situation? Or, is it just making me feel awful and ruminate? If you find yourself answering the latter, then force yourself to pull the plug on your gawking and take action instead. 

Actions need not be heroic. Anyone can donate money to organizations that are on-the-ground in disaster zones. (If you want to help with Hurricane Harvey,
start here.) You can also simply call those who are directly affected by these incidents and ask them how they are doing and offer your support. And if your gawking is about a problem with a political solution, stop reading and ruminating and start calling your elected officials. These are just three examples. I'm sure you can think of many others. 

The main point is this: There is a real benefit to news. It spreads important information. But at a certain point, you should have enough information to act. And at that point, rather than gawking away -- only making yourself feel worse in process -- take action. Not only will taking action actually make a concrete difference in the world, it will also make you feel better because you'll have done something to improve a bad situation rather than merely worried about it.

Issue > Concern > Action.
Issue > Concern > Rumination. 

Much of the way that news is delivered and spreads encourages the latter. But the former is always a better choice. 

 

Responding to Tragedy

(Steve's Thoughts from Ground Zero) 


When disaster strikes your community, it provides a different perspective. As we walked past a freeway completely under water -- with the green road signs hanging 20-plus feet above ground serving as the only indication that, this is, in fact, a highway, not a river -- one of my friends commented: "It's kind of awe inspiring in a way, until you realize the devastation that it represents."

As we wandered around the city, struck by the amount of flooding and devastation, the instinct is to be overwhelmed. To not know what to do. When you can't get out, when you are stuck to a collection of back streets that aren't flooded with no access to anywhere else, the temptation is to stay put, turn on the TV, and let your day be consumed with watching video after video of devastation.

That temptation needs to be avoided. Anxiety freezes us, it causes panic and a desire to stay put. I got asked why (and even criticized for) we held an impromptu run for my collegiate athletes the day after the hurricane, and my answer is this: normalcy. When you go through these tragedies (this is my fourth major hurricane), you get trapped in anxiety mode. You lose your sense of power and control, feeling unable to do anything. By establishing even an hour of normalcy in your day, it helps you return to function. It zaps you out of the "gawking" anxiety mode and reminds you that you, too, have power and control. If you can get a run in, then you can make plans to volunteer, donate items, check roadways or homes for people, cook meals or do whatever you can.

We are not superhumans who feel no emotion. Dread and despair can overwhelm us. A hint of normalcy empowers people. It's one of the reasons why after a tragedy, sporting events are often needed and bring the city or country together.

A quick update from someone who has driven most of inner Houston and walked/jogged miles of roads now to check things out. First, the devastation is insane, but the entire city of Houston is not under water. Certain areas escaped harm while others will suffer damage for weeks, if not months. It's important to remember this because the perspective from watching TV is that the entire city is under water. While I am not downplaying the devastation (it's the worst flood I've ever seen...and I've lived in Houston for 28 years of my life), it's important to communicate this. Panic is not something we need.

As I've heard from friends, family, and random strangers, it's touching to see the concern for myself and others in the city of Houston. Thank you. I am okay. My team is okay. My own home escaped flooding, though our street was underwater and it was an extremely anxious time for me. My parent's house in the suburbs escaped as well. Their backyard flooded, but it did not reach the home. Some parents of student athletes lost homes and apartments. The university largely escaped the bulk of the flooding.

I encourage those who want to help to
donate and offer support. If anyone is interested in helping, feel free to reach out and I will do my best to direct you to the right place..I've opened up my home for any who are coming down to help with the cleanup and one couch is already taken. The spirit and generosity of people are amazing.

 

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