All the News Is Bad
Many others have read this same headline by now and felt the same punch-in-the-gut feeling I get every time gun violence enters the realm of the everyday: lunchtime at school, a shopping trip, a subway ride, a walk across the street.
This particular scenario played out over a parking spot on a snowy street in the Boston area. It was in one of those places where people dig out parking in front of their house and then guard it with lawn chairs and pylons.
One neighbor’s holiday guests parked in front of another neighbor’s house and that neighbor became enraged, fired shots in the air, and threatened the partygoers. He didn’t kill anyone, but he used a gun to scare them away.
It could have been worse, but it was still bad. And it adds to the ever-growing list of headlines that describe the ways people hurt one another.
Before you burst into tears and give up reading this column, I assure you it isn’t going to be a depressing summary of evil deeds and terrible tragedies. Someone’s already written that one: the national media.
As a former news reporter, I am well aware of the need to attract readers’ attention, to sell the news, and to find the stories no one else has written yet. The temptation to sensationalize is strong. The editorial expectation of “new” news is spoken, understood and carried out. Outside the most venerable and trustworthy news outlets, the news is prepared in a way to provoke and to make money.
My observation is that the media present stories that focus almost entirely on the worst of human activity. We are given the impression that 80% of what happens in the world is bad and 20% is unbelievably amazing, inspiring and miraculous. The Internet and social media have quadrupled the impact of this practice. Now we don’t just read “bad news,” we also read in-depth analysis and opinions of that bad news.
Appalling things are happening in our country and around the world. I won’t try to say that’s not true. The news media cover just about all of them. What they don’t cover much are the boring happy endings, the decent people who do good to others with no expectation of acclaim or return, and the infinite number of moments that are just a little better than neutral.
I read the news and I feel sad, hopeless and fearful, but I look around my little world and I feel much better. My children attend a school where parents volunteer hundreds of hours a year to organize art programs, fundraisers and reading groups. The man who lives next door to me is a retired electrician who recently rewired my entire garage for free. A woman I have known since we were in diapers runs a program called Love You 2.org, which seeks to “change the world – one love note at a time.” I have former college classmates whose careers are focused on championing the rights of women, Native Americans and the poor.
Every day I have interactions with people, including clients, friends, neighbors, strangers and grocery store cashiers, that are positive experiences. Every day I benefit from the kindness of people I know and some I don’t know. Every day I park in lots where people are polite, take turns, put their shopping carts away neatly, and watch out for pedestrians.
A billion things go right every day – as long as I don’t read too much of the news. I do read it, but only in small doses. I want to know about international events and progress in the areas of science, health and civil rights.
I am very careful not to let the news I read define my impression of the amount of good and evil in the world – the media are not reliable resources for shaping a perspective on life.
At best, the media remind us that we can always do better, that there’s always a need for more tolerance and charity in the world. And, at worst, by emphasizing the despicable, depraved and tragic, the media construct a disastrous model of behavior for those who are the most heartbroken, ignorant and lost – a model that promotes anger, revenge and denial.
It’s a confluence of influences and choices that leads a man to raise a gun to defend a parking spot. There’s nothing anyone in the parking industry can do to prevent such an occurrence. If you think of it as a reduction and not an exception, it’s enough to make you fear for the future of our civilization.
But when I see a headline like that, I tell myself: that was just one man – one lost and misguided man who made a mistake that might well ruin his life. For every one like him, there are 100,000 others who know the meaning of patience, respect, restraint and humanity. The news itself might be bad, but so many other things are good.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is Parking Today’s proofreader,
occasional writer and amateur parker. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.