Our innate curiosities (both morbid and wholesome) have been fundamental to our success as a species. The engine of curiosity has driven the development of every technological innovation from the wheel to the smart phone. Our curiosity has bestowed the rewards (and responsibility) of ever greater control over our own lives and the workings of the planet. It is no surprise that we have started to equate curiosity with control.
Does Curiosity Really Kill the Cat?
Looking at the current problem of negative information overload, I believe that it is our natural curiosity which compels us to gorge on this information in the false belief that the more we consume, the more control we will have over our lives. Perhaps it sounds like a ridiculous question, but ask yourself, why do you want to have a greater sense of control over your life? For most people, exerting control is connected to the desire to negotiate greater physical and psychological safety for themselves. And in many instances more control really does lead to greater safety.
More Information Does Not Necessarily Equate To Greater Safety
Unfortunately, we must recognize that there are limits to the amount of safety to be found in our lives and in the greater world. We are not all powerful. Grazing on the latest bits of polarizing news all day, every day, keeps us in constant confrontation with the reality of those limits. In order to live fully and enjoy life, much of the time we must engage in fictions that deny both our mortality and the limits of our control.
I feel our current level of engagement with endless streams of negative political information is something for which we are not psychologically built. It keeps us in constant touch with the limitations of our control and denies the necessary fictions which allow us to build meaningful lives. It can be truly frightening to confront the reality of our limits under any set of circumstances. However, the current levels of exposure to bad news leave us living in survival mode and serve as a perfect recipe for chronic stress and depression.
Let’s Think About Other Ways to Empower Ourselves
What can we do? While being informed is empowering, it is only one path to a greater sense of safety. In feeding ourselves to the brink of obesity on negative information, we may be misdirecting energies that could otherwise be utilized to make substantial positive change in our lives.
- Assess Your Level of Control
It’s not unusual to ruminate over problems from time to time. Sometimes, it’s hard to break these chains of thoughts that circulate again and again through your brain. Ruminations are one way we attempt to exert control and can sometimes lead to solutions to difficult problems. But just as often we stay trapped in a cul-de-sac of anxious thinking. Being realistic about your level of control over a problem can help you escape these mental cul-de-sacs. Start by asking yourself, “Is this a problem I can affect?” If you are ruminating in fear about the disappearance of the polar ice caps, then there are real limits to the benefits of extended analysis of this concern. You are not going to solve that problem by continuing to ruminate on it. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be aware of global concerns outside your reach, but rather you should be cognizant of the cost/benefit of remaining focused on this area for extended periods of time.
- Target the Community or Area Where You Would Like to Make an Impact
In reality there are areas where we do have a greater degree of control. Focus on the ways you can make an impact within the existing framework of your life.
- Talk to Friends
Fortunately we do not have to bear the crushing responsibility of finding safety or solving all of the world’s problems on our own. Collaboration provides synergy along with checks and balances on our sense of control. We are not alone. By joining together, we are safer and more powerful than on our own.
In my next post, I will address how to utilize social networks to capitalize on interpersonal connections and positive interactions that will enhance, not diminish, your sense of safety.