Within our daily lives, regardless of what good or bad things actually happened to us that day, there may still be influences which can cause our mood, attitude or even how empathic we choose to be that day.

Outrage Porn

Referring to any type of influence or tactic by the media which is designed to push your buttons, “Outrage Porn” is there to manipulate your way of thinking. It’s done in the slyest of ways. This type of media exists not only in the world of the internet, but actually is there, available at any time through most media channels including TV, magazines and good old traditional newspapers.

Designed to anger you, even enrage you, causing you to visit their websites more frequently, for longer periods, to continue to buy and read their newspapers or periodicals, or tune in for breaking updates.

Oh, you’re mad alright! Of course you should be mad about that thing you’re mad about! Look at all these people who share your opinion about how mad you are about that thing!

Conversely, you may feel that your “voice” is under-represented and so you feel obligated to continue the fight, to watch videos, read articles and special reports, talk about the issues to people you know.

Basically, one-half hour’s exposure to Outrage Porn can really disrupt our whole day if we are truly disturbed by the issue or issues which upset us that day. We may even turn to alcohol, smoking, comfort food or pharmaceutical drugs to make us feel better about the horrible news we keep hearing.

Who is really responsible for the health of your mind?

Each human being has feelings and ideas about how things should be, based on their taking in and understanding of information, their surroundings and upbringing, their social and economic background and the quality, accuracy, and bias of information available to them.

“But it’s the news,” you say, “I have to watch it or be exposed to it or I’m being irresponsible.” Anyone could argue that an individual who did not at least pay some attention to the news was perhaps being irresponsible? You might miss out on some big, important news which would affect your life or maybe the life of your loved ones? You have to pay attention! Don’t you?

But are you actually being a good steward of your own well being if these things constantly upset you? If you break apart, for example, the evening news, and really think about which stories the news presented to you, you’ll come to realize that even the news (especially the news!) is really the original Outrage Porn.

Ask Yourself if You Really Needed to Know Any of that Information

After watching the news (or actually any sort of media which would purport to sum up all of the most important or relevant news of the world just for you), ask yourself, “Hey Self, now if I were to look at it as honestly as possible, how much of that news really had anything to do with me? Now that I’ve watched it, do I feel better or worse? Do I have greater or less anxiety?”

Well? Do you feel better, or worse after this exposure?

I’ll bet I know the answer. N to the O, it spells NO!

Any kind of media designed to influence you to keep watching, so that they can get ratings and advertise their sponsors to an emotionally fragile audience, can not actually be impartial because they make money off of your anger, and lots of it!

You might think that they are devoted to your cause and that this is a good reason to keep watching. But, if they have a sponsor, or if they have a vested financial interest in increasing views and viewer loyalty, they are chasing the dollars to be made by manipulating your mind.

It is the knowledge of what content most makes people respond that allows them to reap the maximum rewards of what can be obtained from addicting you to Outrage Porn.

There is a worldwide trend of decreased empathy attributable to emotional abuse by the media, and not just the news either, but also desensitizing TV programs, movies, radio shows, and video games that all pass as forms of entertainment.

As we are increasingly exposed to many more extremely intense emotions, these feelings may cause us to go in one of two directions. We might turn cold in an effort to shut them out. Or we might agonize over them, becoming too absorbed and over-functioning which can lead to anxiety and neuroticism, pushing us to the point of avoidance.

In both cases, the net result is the same, disconnected empathy. As a global society, we are losing our connection to our naturally balanced empathy.

Oppressive regimes in governments throughout time have used techniques of de-humanization of their enemy to infect the minds and hearts of their caring countrymen. For instance, the tactics used by Hitler’s regime included introducing hateful literature and news to the educated, attentive, and concerned German public, sometimes in the form of entertaining cartoon strips, suggesting that Jewish people were less than human and therefore exempt from deserving common empathy.

Letters sent home from German soldiers to their wives, girlfriends, and children back home, spoke casually about exterminating people in gas chambers. Not as hateful individuals or evil monsters, but with statements like “I’m going to Auschwitz. Kisses, your Heini,”

In other words, these men, these German soldiers, were dealing with an ordinary, everyday job. Just completely normal folks like you and me, behaving as if they worked at a completely mundane job at a factory. Most of these people were just doing as they were told, following directives, not necessarily hatefully, just… matter of faculty.

The increased exposure to the idea that any human is to be considered less equal than another for any reason can make them eventually allow that thought to permeate their own psyche.

This becomes especially true if they tend to receive a lot of confirmation bias which contributes to this belief, and it remains a dire threat to all of us as a global village.

Sadly, genocides are far from ancient history. There are several active efforts to eliminate specific racial groups even today. Are there any groups of people that you can think of that are trivialized in this way to you in the media you consume so frequently?

It may not be a surprise to you that exposure to violence or denigration can make us lose our natural sensitivity and our empathy for others to some degree. To which degree that is, can be the question.

Certainly, the subject of this blog is The Empathy Scale. We’re dealing with empathy, so the idea that our natural empathy can be tampered with is to say that we do not have free will or to know what’s right.

Examining your own feelings, do you believe that your own empathy for any group been diminished because of desensitization?

When do you hate “the other side” enough to actually wish them harm… or to do them harm?

This brings us to another subject. This one is about the cousin of Outrage Porn, it is called Confirmation bias.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of a person’s pre-existing theories or beliefs.

So this means that we’re inclined to support almost any new information or opinion which we feel may substantiate our pre-existing belief. We may not even stop to think about whether it’s the truth or not. We probably will not fact-check the story or question the motives of whomever we got this news or opinion from.

We want to believe what we already believe.

Confirmation bias in media counts on us to flock to the subject of interest as hungry children in a baby’s highchair awaiting the next spoonful of pudding. Oh boy, that pudding is good! But is it good for us? Do we, as adults read the ingredients when we spoon-feed ourselves what we want to hear regardless of truth or origin?

Strict Reduction of Social Media Involvement

Well, a lot of people complain and threaten to do this, but I actually did it!

The unthinkable… I quit Facebook!

I decided to put myself to the enormous challenge of quitting Facebook for just one month. I also stopped exposing myself to daily news, limiting myself to just checking in a few times a week, and even then, only what I deemed to be the most reliable news source. (Would you like to know what it is? I will tell you later on if you keep reading. For now, I just want to relate the story to you.)

I was largely concerned that I might miss some important news. My first month of weaning off of Facebook was difficult, but immediately rewarding because I had been examining the mental space it took up in my life, even though I never really spent that much time there.

Previously, I used to check in a few times a day and post every few weeks. I used to go around to all my friend’s posts and try to support them in their interests, and that took up a fair bit of my time.

Of course, I appreciate it when others do that for me. But then is this attention genuine? If I spend so much time involved in virtual lives how much actual life was I missing?

So here’s what I did. I secretly told some of my closest Facebook friends that I would be taking a break for a while, I wished them well and left nice messages for them on their recent posts, and even shared one person’s post as my last act on Facebook.

Well, after the first month, I checked in wondering if I had missed anything that anyone had posted, or mentioned me in, or tried to contact me for, etc. I was genuinely relieved to find that I did not seem to have been particularly missed!

I did however during this time, find that I had experienced increased serenity and a more clear sense of oneness with my own mind. So I decided to forego Facebook and most of the news for another month.

And you know what? I found it absolutely wonderful to reclaim the mental space from all the superfluous information habitually occupied by social media and mainstream media as well.

Resultant of this experience was that I was less exposed to my online friends’ complaints and their fighting, their anger, their views, and their confirmation bias. Even though I might agree wholeheartedly with a statement someone might make as a response to, say, a political party they are angry about, I escape the near constant exposure to these topics that make me feel angry, worried, and even a little neurotic.

Now you might be thinking, “Okay, so Facebook I can understand, but Mainstream Media?! Isn’t that irresponsible?”

Well, except for the twice weekly or so check in with the online news supplier I most trust (thanks for reading on – it’s CBC News online), I watched no news at all.

Additionally, I watched not only no TV news but no TV at all during this time!

I entertained myself with online movies and reading, with much more control over my own content consumption. I had no problem still enjoying the internet while browsing specific subjects which to me are personally interesting, important or academically necessary.

Two months went by, then three. After about four months, I checked in again. There were a few messages and comments but nothing that made me feel as though I had missed anything that was really important to me. My friends who interacted with me by phone or email were still able to do so, but without the need for me to see and be distracted by every thought, idea, angry topic, or even lunch menu that everyone I’ve ever known had in the last five minutes. Is that offering me authentic value within my life?

I found that within my own life I had recaptured pockets of time intended for keeping up with Facebook. I spent more time in natural surroundings, with my own personal projects and interests, with my own actual family with whom I live.

The next Facebook abstinence lasted just under one whole year. Now I have adopted an “every now and then” attitude with it. My own research found that my own well-being is greatly improved with strict limitations to these exposures to constant things that while they may be important to the person leaving the post, do you think they will be hurt if you are not there to comment on how pretty their picture of the lunch they had was?

Of course, it’s up to the individual to decide what’s appropriate for her or himself within the context of their own life. As for me, I no longer expose my mind to the constant bombardment of negative imagery. Instead I nearly always spend time with those thoughts that enrich me.

“But what about the news?” you ask. Well, after a year of only checking one very reliable news source twice a week or so, there was really only one instance where I would have been directly affected by anything in the news.

I had purchased some lettuce from a local grocery store. The news reported a “potential” nationwide recall for the very lettuce I had purchased. There had been an E. Coli scare somewhere along the supply chain, resulting in several related sicknesses and a death. My lettuce was recalled voluntarily by the local store, just to be safe. We did not eat the lettuce, but even if we had, it probably would have been okay.

Except for that bit of excitement, there were no other reports that directly affected my world, my actual daily world. I continued to be actively involved with global social issues I believe in via various petition websites. If I want to make a donation to any charity or group of my choice I may still do so. I just don’t have to be involved with the daily image bombardment and desensitization that adversely affects empathy.

There are so many things to be upset about at any given time if you choose to constantly fill your mind with those thoughts.

So in my own personal research, doing the nearly unthinkable in this day and age, cutting myself off almost entirely from most social media involvement, cutting way back on the consumption of world affairs I was allowing my mind to take in, I found that overall my own ability to think clearly and about things relevant to my life and world came to the surface.

My work improved and so even did some of my friendships as those people whom I am closest with, having returned to interacting with me in high-quality ways like email and phone. I have increased my overall productivity and have reduced my anxiety levels due to reducing the time I make available for social media. I want to point out that I also use Twitter and other social websites, but mainly only for posting occasional material relevant to my work.

So my findings were that with one year’s break from social media, and limiting my news to one reliable source a few times weekly, quite the opposite from the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), I found that I was able to visit even more sites with information and subjects I am interested in. I was delighted to find that, for the most part, I really was able to filter out a lot of the negativity and just general small talk and minutiae which was taking up a lot of my valuable mental space. No offense to all of my great (and some not so great) Facebook friends, but I had to look away and go back into my own reality. I had to actually find out what that reality was by creating it myself instead of reading it in a post.

My experience has shown me that my life improved when I stopped allowing myself to be exposed to negative input on a regular basis. In all of our lives before social media and even before the prevalence of the internet, people lived real, genuine lives. People cared about all of the same things that they care about now and were content with the publications, TV shows and friendships which enriched them. Rarely were they exposed to such an enormous quantity of random and horribly offensive material.

Sometimes it can feel good to get back at, or even just complain about the bad guy, the proverbial “Them”. We may be angry about someone in power who makes us feel fearful. We may have a genuine reason to feel angry about this person or persons and their policies.

Will we then give in to Confirmation Bias Outrage Porn, joining in on the group hatred of the individual or group?

Possibly spending time in chat forums looking at lots of exciting articles, inviting us to satiate our confirmation bias with a tall cocktail of anger and loathing, well deserved of course, because if it weren’t we would not be here with all these like-minded individuals, right?

We might enjoy some cartoons and memes about our mutual much-hated subject. I mean, we’re all good people up here in this section.

Yes, to a point it may feel good to be connected with those who feel as we do. This is true especially if we feel threatened or have genuinely been done wrong by the subject. The point is, when does it end? There are only three 20 minute pockets of time in each hour of the day. How much of your day did you devote to giving attention to things which you can’t really help? Things you actually were not there to help at all, but to indulge negativity involving yourself in things you can’t really help.

Choose Your Battles

Why cut out the small stuff if you can? Well, because there are only three 20 minute sections in each hour. You cannot fight every battle that life gives you if you expect to be effective at fighting and dealing with the really large challenges that life has to offer.

Author and speaker Leslie Vernick offers the following thoughts on how by making small changes we can gain more strength and mastery over our lives.

#1. You do not have to be a continuous victim or a resentful martyr. You do have choices to make.

#2. You do make choices~good ones and bad ones, but remember, not to choose is to choose.

#3. Our wisest choices are made by the person we want to be, not how we feel at a particular moment.

#4. Recognize the result of small changes;

#5. Each evening ask yourself these questions:

“Did the choices I made today lead to greater growth and maturity in me?”

“Are my daily small choices moving me closer to the person I want to be?”

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