Here is one of my favorite stories about one of my nieces. It’s ridiculously cute. When she was little, her nursery school teacher had a lesson on fire safety. She asked the kids, “If your clothes were on fire, what would you do?” My niece said, “Well, I wouldn’t put them on.”
It’s great because it’s so sensible. But when I’m reading things online, I haven’t always been that wise.
I have a history of clicking on things that I know will upset me. It’s like I’m standing at a closet, deciding what to wear that day, and one of my outfits is engulfed in flames, and a voice in my head says, “Hmm, yes. That one.”
What I need instead, and I’m starting to acquire, is a voice in my head that says, “BITCH, DON’T DO IT.” (Or maybe I should speak to myself more nicely than that.)
Trigger warnings are designed to help people make informed choices about what they read. Some people have written articles against them. I put those articles in the big, popular category called This Respect and Consideration Has Got to Stop.
Warnings can be helpful. In some cases, we may want or need to read the material anyway, but it’s nice to have our emotional guard up instead of being blindsiding by something.
One argument against trigger warnings is that you can’t anticipate everything that will upset people, which is honestly the stupidest argument imaginable. That’s like saying since it’s possible to accidentally hurt someone’s feelings, we should never even try to avoid it.
Naturally, everything can’t have a trigger warning. But in lots of cases, the title of a piece itself is a pretty clear one.
I’m trying to avoid reading too much stuff that will mess me up. If I read about awful, hateful, and negative things all day, that’s not healthy.
In the past, sometimes a news story would come along that brought up terrible memories or awful feelings in me… and I would immerse myself in it. I would read think pieces, re-packagings of the same information, interviews with individuals, and so on. I think I did this in hopes of understanding things that are beyond understanding.
The media capitalizes on our hot buttons. Just to use one example, a few sites with a feminist bent know that prejudice against fat women is an emotional issue, one that guarantees plenty of clicks. Any time these sites find a story about how fat women are being discriminated against or treated with disrespect, they run it.
It’s always under the guise of concern: “Isn’t this terrible?” What the sites are really doing is making sure that their readers have plenty of opportunities to feel bad about their bodies.
Trying to avoid how much negative stuff I read is tricky. I want to stay informed and empathetic. However, I can do this without overdosing on a story.
Reading about something for hours and feeling horrible about it does not actually change anything, even though it can make me feel I must be a good person for feeling so bad. It’s more productive to gather the facts and, if there’s a bad situation in the news, figure out if there’s anything I can do to help.
A hand-written letter to my Congressperson is time better spent than reading seven rants about an issue, along with all the comments in the comments sections. Saying a prayer or sending good thoughts someone’s way is also a healthy response. A small donation to a reputable nonprofit costs me less and does a lot more good than hours mired in outrage or despair. And the less overwhelmed, cynical, and depressed I am, the more likely I am to be useful in the world.