With many news sources available, you shouldn’t alienate yourself from the news and your community.
Oklahoma consistently turns out some of the fewest voters in the states. In fact, just 32.3 percent of eligible voters turned out for the 2014 midterm elections. Tulsa is a city of just over 400,000 people. It’s a relatively small place with even fewer engaged voters. With so few people, I’d think that more people would be engaged with their government and their community.
Somehow, though, people consider it a point of pride to not pay attention to the news. They’ll point out that they focus on alleged better things that matter more to them. That would make sense if they were talking about how much they prefer reading up on Byzantine history instead of Trump’s latest disaster.
I can accept that dealing with the grim realities of the world — the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, civil war in Syria and people suffering inside our own borders — all take a toll on a person’s ability to cope with the world.
That doesn’t excuse people from engaging in local news and local problems. It is everyone’s responsibility to vote for the people who most affect their community, from city councilors to the string of robberies in their neighborhood. It’s about being a conscientious citizen, about protecting oneself, about living in their own world and inhabiting their own skin. Reading the news and keeping up with current events is a way to participate in the world.
It’s an exercise in empathy and critical thinking as well. People who read the news must think about where the news is coming from and create their own opinion when confronted with the facts. They are asked to think about the consequences of their actions, the actions of the government and anyone else who makes decisions.
When people proudly ignore the news, they are doing more than protecting themselves from disheartening stories. They are announcing that they are so privileged that nothing in the news can be important enough that they’d need to pay attention to it.
Consider members of the LGBT+ community, who have to stay vigilant about laws that will discriminate against them or deliver them new rights. A recent law would have allowed adoption agencies in Oklahoma to discriminate against LGBT+ families and children, keeping children from loving homes just because they live differently than how society thinks they should. Consider people of color, who are faced with continued police brutality and wait to see if the law will finally take their side and give offending officers any kind of repercussion. Consider anyone with a uterus, who, because we live in a world that makes birth control difficult to acquire and dangerous, need to know if they will have access to safe and legal abortions should they need one. The list goes on and on.
It’s arrogant to assume that people exist separately from the news. Even if people aren’t affected by any of the issues that the news would need to relay, they certainly have friends whom the news matters to. We exist in a world that is connected by a thousand strings, and the news picks up on those strings and illuminates them to readers. The news shows a connection between individuals and society. Consider the teachers’ strike. Too many teachers were paid too little for too long, and they realized that they could unite to demand better. Their actions affect students, who in turn affect their parents, affecting coworkers and friends. It’s impossible to isolate actions from the whole.
There’s a lot of news out there, and more appears every day as the Internet unfolds. It can feel overwhelming to think about all of the awful things in the world. There is so much misery and a myriad of conflicting opinions. People can feel that they don’t know where to start, or what to care about or how much they should follow the news.
But no one needs to read every story by every paper or even a singular article from several papers. It’s enough to scan for topics people care about and create an ongoing social awareness about what’s important to them. It’s enough to get a general feel for the issues facing others, even if they don’t understand it all. There is no shame in not knowing enough and admitting that a need for someone to explain something further. What is a shame is not taking the time to take an interest in the world, in the country or — most important — in the community.
People can check in every few days or once a week. They can get apps that cover important events — my go-to app is the Associated Press app, which gives summaries of events with little fanfare. If news is too boring, people can check op-eds (like this commentary section!), which contain more opinion than facts but give readers a jumping-off point for facts to look for and articles to read that are related to their interests.
Reading the news is vital to living in a connected world. It doesn’t have to be a monumental effort, and it doesn’t require people to spend hours upon hours catching up with every single thing that happened in the world. But it is an important exercise in participating in brain-building skills, empathy and people’s communities. No one is too important or too privileged to read the news. Think of how much more dynamic Tulsa would be, with its low voting rate and 400,000 people, if everyone sought out ways to be more mindful of their surroundings and fellow people.