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Opinion | The Outrage Diet

I have friends who tell me that they can’t follow the news anymore, that it makes them too upset to sleep. It’s like the topless dancer’s advice in John Prine’s song “Spanish Pipedream”:

Blow up your TV, throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try and find Jesus on your own

But ignoring what’s wrong has never made anything right. I completely understand the impulse to hide from what is happening to this country, to the very planet itself. I’ve been tempted more than once to tune it all out for now and pray it all turns around on Election Day.

The problem is that our troubled state isn’t temporary. I will be singing hosannahs from the rooftops if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected. But a Biden presidency won’t reverse global warming. It won’t stopper the geyser of poison spewing from right-wing media, and it won’t force Facebook to rein the poisoners in. This election is our only hope for positive change, but it doesn’t offer a miracle cure — to Covid-19 or anything else that ails us.

We will have to find some way to keep informed that doesn’t induce a permanent state of high blood pressure. For me, it’s clearly safer to read bad news than to hear about it, so I lean hard on text: this newspaper, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New Yorker, The Tennessean, the Nashville Scene, plus a bunch of newsletters, including one from my indispensable local NPR affiliate, WPLN, which offers the most readable form of local news in town despite being a radio outlet.

I have also, from time to time, tried to consume news the way my parents’ generation did: in twice-a-day doses. Several times I have attempted to ignore the news for one whole day each week — an Outrage Sabbath — but I appear to be too addicted to news to go an entire day without it. I’ve decided to try an Outrage Diet instead.

A diet doesn’t require a person to stop eating; it just requires a person to start eating better. Just as a dieter substitutes salads for burgers, my new plan is to substitute resolve for outrage. I resolve to give more money to nonprofits fighting for fairness and reason. I resolve to look for more hands-on ways to make a difference, no matter how small. I resolve to remember that while outrage is the currency of our era, it doesn’t actually buy anything. Action is what buys change.

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