Chain Smoking Bad News


Chain Smoking Bad News in Marriage Conversation

Our attraction to trouble may help us survive

I, like many Americans, have a “bad news” addiction. I see three articles on the front page of the paper all talking about something good that happened or is happening and I skim them. Give me a story about a mid level bureaucrat who loses it and shoots a bunch of fellow employees and I read every detail.

Bad news stories don’t uplift, don’t inspire, don’t really inform. But we all want to ask: ‘what happened?’ and “why did it happen?’

Fascination with ‘what’s wrong?’ shows up in many places. In marriage it can be as simple as ‘what’s wrong with you?’ In politics it’s a device used to discredit any idea that isn’t my own.

The bad news is a searchlight sweeping our local or national landscape. ‘What should we fear?’ ‘Who among us is dangerous?’ ‘How do I protect myself and those I love against random violence?’

I think reading bad news is a way of toning up our intuitions. After all, we are only a few hundred generations removed from living by the seat of our intuitive pants. We survived (or didn’t) because we listened to what was going on around us and used that information to make survival choices.

Once upon a time I played the lottery faithfully. Five bucks a week, five chances at becoming a millionaire. Then one day I read an article in the local paper written by a statistician. He said this: “statistically speaking, you have a better chance of being killed by a falling airplane part than you do of winning the lottery.” Never occurred to me. Apparently a number of people each year are killed by falling airplane parts.

The bad news stories are a bit like that. A few years ago we never heard about most of them because they didn’t get instantly reported – no news helicopters, no cell phones, no internet. But bad news was going on. It’s not a blight of our time. There have always been wars, rapes, murders, greed, violence and severely disturbed people with access to weapons.

Could it be that we not only want to sharpen our intuitions and prepare ourselves for any possibility, but also are somehow reassured when something bad happens to someone else? Perhaps we feed off a darker side of the bad news. “Glad it wasn’t me!”

Aristotle made a profound observation when he said “luck is when the arrow hits the guy next to you.”

So next time you find yourself drawn to a bad news story ask yourself: Does this make me smarter, more loving to those around me, help me create a healthier environment in my family and community, or, is it only dark fascination?

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