In the Wake of the Colorado Aftermath, a Need for Perspective
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 18:07
It was not a particularly great news week.
Sliding markets, the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the never-ending sexual abuse scandal at Penn State – there were plenty of reasons for people to be down this past week and it showed.
Facebook and Twitter were alight with despair-laden commentary. A cursory scan revealed a lot of people who claimed to lose faith in humanity, who were tired of the violence, who had just, quite frankly, had enough.
I get it.
It’s easy to get lost in this 24-hour news-scape. To feel that those things are true – that the world is crazier than ever, that things are getting worse, that ours is a world without hope.
As someone who has lived and breathed media for much the last 15 years, let me let you in on something: the media vastly distorts reality.
That’s not to say there are Wizard of Oz type executives at CNN and FOX twisting knobs and using undue influence to literally twist reality. No, the people in media whom I know have the best of intentions. They aim to tell stories and tell them as accurately as possible.
It’s our minds’ reaction to media that’s the culprit. Media merely tells people what they want to know most about. Typically that’s the most stunning or drastic thing that’s happened recently – calamitous market drops, amazing sports comebacks, mass violence.
Out of a world of 7 billion people and perhaps billions more stories each day, mass media isolates a few stories, and tells them over and over again. In sheer mathematical scale those one or two events are a blip on the radar of the world’s goings on. And often, they tell you very little about the climate of global happenings.
The mind reacts to the immediate; and what we see immediately on the news and on the internet are stories, again and again, typically of what’s bad, what’s wrong, what terrible things have happened.
What are our minds supposed to deduce?
So when the news came out about Aurora, people got scared. They ran to Facebook and posted their anger, frustration and fear. They talked about the same among their friends.
And yet amid all this fear and anger, according to the FBI, violent crime rates in 2010 – the last year for which data is available – were the lowest they’ve been since 1971, the murder rate hasn’t been as low as it is now since 1961. Preliminary data indicates crime rates dropped even further in 2011.
Statistically, Americans have less chance of being murdered or involved in a violent crime than they have in more than four decades. And yet, I’d be willing to wager, many of them have no fear about the most dangerous thing they do every day: get in a car.
Auto accidents kill 93 people a day and 34,000 people a year in the US, and yet, I haven’t seen too many tweets complaining about the need for more prudent highway design lately. Where’s the outrage? The all day and night commentary on MSNBC about this ruthless serial killer: cars?
My point is, sometimes a little perspective helps temper fear and emotion; and gives you a better picture of the larger truth.
The vast majority of humanity is good. But their stories rarely get told.
Well, you don’t report on things that are normal.