Do I Need To Stay Informed? (Here’s 6 Gut-Check Questions to Ask.)

When I first graduated from college, I wanted to know all. the. things. Or at least look smart in those oh-so-important conversations.

People were pissed about Iraq and Harry Potter, up in arms at George Bush and Twilight, and in my then-context, debating all things about the “right way to do church.”

I read the books and listened to talks and asked questions and pried deeper and enjoyed every minute of it. Discourse is my jam and I was never happier than when digging for information or sharing thoughtful conversation.

Then our future began shifting overseas and other subjects dominated my life. There was so much I had to learn and discover and DO that I just couldn’t keep all the information-plates spinning anymore.

When we finally arrived overseas we were three months without internet. When it finally worked, I awoke one morning to photos of a white Christmas in Dallas, something I’d longed for my entire life.

I couldn’t handle it.

I forsook the internet, deleted my Facebook account, and climbed into an introverted cave of depression I wouldn’t find my way out of for another year or two.

When I finally emerged I was so far behind on “current” that I gave up all together.

Looking back on my younger self, I see that my friends and I were not staying informed about everything as I fancied to be true, but rather were tracking select things someone told us were important. They weren’t necessarily the topics closest to my life or heart, they were just what someone somewhere thought I should be bothering about.

Here are a few of the questions I ask myself these days to make sure I’m not getting swept up in a direction opposed to my highest priorities and purpose.

These are big questions to consider. You shouldn’t have answers as you read them and maybe one or more don’t really speak to you. Just put whatever catches your attention in your back pocket to ruminate on in the coming days.

Skim if you need to, but don’t miss number six, okay?

1. Do I really need to stay informed?

To what extent? To what end? Time is limited, and keeping up comes at a price. Is it worth it? Am I willing to spend fewer moments with my family or sacrifice action in an area important to me?

Keeping current is relevant mainly when a decision is hanging on a particular development (like evacuating during a hurricane), or when we intend to be an active participant in another way (like voting or calling our congresspeople).

But when it’s time to vote, I can find what I need pretty dang fast. And that information is a compilation of everything that’s transpired. I also ask questions. Then I have a variety of perspectives and deeper relationships with people.

Or maybe like me, sometimes staying informed for you is about looking smart (or not seeming stupid). But maybe smart is actually living by my priorities instead of someone else’s.

2. What do I need to stay informed about, really?

Everything? Headlines? The Kardashians?

I’m not current on much these days and that includes the shifting American policies that are affecting our relationship with the Middle East. US/Middle East relations acutely affect my life because we remain in Lebanon by the grace of the Lebanese government. If we lose our visas, we lose our child.

But whatever I know or don’t know doesn’t change anything. If war breaks out, it breaks out. If we lose or almost-lose our visas, no amount of anxiety is going to help. We’ll take it one day at a time just like we would otherwise.

So what is it that you really, truly need to know from day to day? Decide, and boot the rest.

3. Is staying current fueling my hate-fire?

Do I find myself becoming more angry and rant-y and turning into one of those people who drive me nuts?

I’m not talking about the indignance that rises in you about certain issues. If the intensity of your “this should not be” is rising and motivating you to act, awesome.

But if keeping up is fueling your hate-fire, and you feel increasingly stressed, short-tempered, or hot-headed, pull back. You’ll have less to say on the topic (which makes you a better listener) and when you really need to know something, you can catch up quickly online. No amount of in-the-know is worth destroying health or relationships over.

4. Am I finding my own information/sources?

Everyone who shares news has an agenda. Stories are delivered from a particular point of view, and gazillions of stories never exist because a teller decides they aren’t important.

Whatever is being handed around is never as valuable as discovering your own questions and digging up answers. Plus, following your own questions and thoughts is fun!

Each person will have their own “how” to this, and I suggest an approach in number six below. I personally don’t scroll headlines because it makes me dizzy.

Instead, when I hear something intriguing, baffling, or heartbreaking, I take my most pressing question or curiosity to the internet. A few searches later I’m on a roll, keeping number five below in mind.

5. Can I see multiple sides of an issue?

People do what makes sense to them. There are reasons why people do things that make no sense to me and it isn’t because they’re stupid.

Make a point to understand how someone else sees a thing. Empathy respects humanity and is midwife to participating in lasting change. You might be surprised why people think what they do.

Keep digging until you can argue against your point of view so compellingly that you’re almost not sure of your position anymore.

6. Am I confusing knowing with caring?

When we see the tragedies the news so masterfully presents, we feel sad, aghast, outraged even. Then we discuss with others the atrocities, compare the fine details, and shake our heads at the world’s horrors.

But feelings don’t put food in a hungry child or keep a family from selling their 7-year-old into slavery. They don’t provide housing for tsunami victims or protect dying species or bring a missing child home. Nor do they change laws or un-do political awfuls.

Knowing isn’t caring. Acting is.

You shouldn’t care about everything. No soul can carry the weight of the world. So know about things, and select only a few to care about. Maybe choose a single cause with your family and learn everything you can, including the ways a person or family can get involved.

Maybe choose a justice issue for 2018 and an environmental one for 2019. Pick local or go global. You could visit the elderly in your community, give to disaster relief, provide micro-loans to people trying to start businesses or send their kids to school, encourage people who are working on the front lines, or sponsor a child.

You could be the deeply-informed one on one topic and encourage others to help you learn about something important to them. By putting knowledge into action you’ll be becoming more of the person you want to be; it will be an example to your kids and a catalyst for your community.

Whatever your road to staying in-the-know, spend your efforts in a way that matches your priorities and purpose, and you’ll be another step closer to that just-right-for-you life.

p.s. — Our 3-part series on staying informed without losing your mind.

12 Comments

  1. Ashley Nolan

    I am so grateful for this post and the podcasts about this. I have become very overwhelmed (and disappointed) in our news and media outlets and these two tools have done wonders for how and where I look for media coverage. Thank you so much!

    • Amber Black

      I feel the same way, Ashley. I’m so happy Art of Simple decided to tackle this!

  2. Maryalene

    I think #3 is the hardest for me. I struggle with how to be informed without letting anger consume me. Sticking my head in the sand and ignoring current events doesn’t seem like a viable option to me but I hate getting sucked into one more article that is going upset me.

  3. Lindsay

    This is such an important post. I struggle all the time with feeling that I should be keeping up better with current affairs although to preserve my sanity I tend to avoid the News as much as possible. But ‘head in the sand’ is not the way to be a responsible adult! I found your suggestions really helpful, especially #4 as I’m so aware of how difficult it is to get anything other than someone’s spin on a story, and #5 is part of that as well. Then choosing something to get really educated about and take action on rather than being overwhelmed by it all – great advice. Thank you so much.

    • Amber Black

      You’re welcome, Lindsay. Thanks for letting me know this was helpful; I’m so glad it was!

  4. Beth

    Great article! I think there is strong peer pressure from all sides to be upset about many political/social things without any encouragement to either a) really figure out why the other side comes to the conclusions it does or to b) actually do something to help the situation. Both require putting yourself in uncomfortable situations.
    My husband often says it’s disappointing how upset people get about national issues but how little they get involved in local issues that they can actually influence.

    • Amber Black

      “Both require putting yourself in uncomfortable situations.” Well said. And thanks for reminding me that “uncomfortable” is sometimes where I must be to become the person I really want to be. Thanks!

  5. trina

    Motivated to act vs. hate-fire – good call! That description speaks to me, because in the past year and a half, I’ve become quite excellent at hate-fire. After last year’s presidential inauguration, I read somewhere that people need to choose just a couple of issues to be passionate about, as you’ve also suggested here, or you’d be burned out in about a week. So true! I’ve really had to roll back my reading/”becoming informed” about national issues because it’s so infuriating to feel so impotent about it all.

    I’m shifting my focus all the way down to one person at a time. Did I make today – just ONE day – nicer for ONE person. If I can say that every day, I will hope that my one little snowflake (ha ha) adds to many many others to make the blizzard.

  6. Guest

    One of the most timely and culturally appropriate things I’ve read in awhile. Bravo. And thanks for the kick in the pants to revisit my information consumption. 😉

  7. Audra Edmonson

    I was so glad to read this. I’ve never considered myself “well-informed” and never wanted to be; I’m a sensitive type, so reading the news and being around people who debate and argue about whatever’s on the menu fuels not only my hate-fire, but also my anxiety. I dread conflict, especially when it’s meaningless. I’ve always strived for where you’re at; caring about the things that really matter to me, are aligned with my priorities, and things I’d actually take action on.

    But it’s tough when people assume that because you don’t listen to the news or know the ins and outs of the political situation, you don’t care. You’re closing your eyes and shutting your ears against the world. You assume everything is okay. And that’s not it. I don’t assume the world is fine and dandy because I don’t hear about the horrors. I assume it’s bad somewhere, but it’s also good somewhere, and I’d like to focus on the hope and the goodness and the beauty around me, to help my family and myself maintain hope. And like you said, if I need to vote or take direct action, I can find what I need then.

    Also, there’s the whole idea of the world slowly becoming worse and worse, and that’s just not true. There were terrible things happening every age, but we didn’t have the internet or accessibility, and we got our news more selectively, by letters or relatives out of town (before tv and newspapers). The invention of those things caused the world to be brought to us, and as we were inundated with the news that had always been happening, it felt new and it felt scary and suddenly we knew the whole world was going to pieces. I’ve never felt that way, never bought into the golden age idea. There’s beauty and pain everywhere, and always have been. (I’m thinking of the points made by Neil Postman in “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” a fantastic work.)

    Well, I turned into a ranter about why I don’t like people who rant, so…staying informed and not staying informed both seem to cause the same thing! XD

    Either way, thank you for your insight. I think next time someone tells me I’m being naive or purposefully ignorant, I’ll point them here.

  8. Sophie Agbonkhese

    I love the combination of #2 and #6. Do I really need to know this? And can I do anything about it?

    I think that we have an obligation to hold certain groups of people (i.e. our governments) accountable for their actions, and knowing and caring about their decisions and actions is critical for democracy to work. I’m sure many of them would love it if we all just “minded our own business” so to speak, and left them to make the decisions unencumbered by our outrage.

    But certainly none of us can take on every outrage-worthy cause without becoming hate-filled. This is a good reminder to be selective about the crosses we will bear.

    Thank you.

  9. Mandy

    I love every bit of this post. Like you, I’m the type of person who wants to know everything. My Facebook feed used to be full of news outlets and the news was on in the background 24/7 around our home. Election time nearly sent me over the edge. And then, I had to have heart surgery suddenly. During my recovery, I could see that my need for wanting to know everything at all times played a huge roll in how anxious I felt daily. I no longer watch the news or listen to political podcasts and talking heads. All news feeds are gone from my Facebook feed, as are people who enjoyed nothing more than stirring up strife. I feel so much better and can’t believe how much of those toxic things cluttered up my life.

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