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Prioritizing awareness enables my focus

(I wrote this listening to “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” you can listen while you read if you’d like!)

It’s no secret that we live amongst/despite a constant onslaught of horrendous events. The number of deaths, protests, medical emergencies, human rights violations, political fiascos, shootings, & natural disasters we live alongside is beyond comprehension. But as the years go by, I’ve increasingly, unconsciously learned to disconnect myself from what’s happening in the world. I’ve realized that otherwise, I’m incapacitating myself from doing the work I care about to help.

Being able to simply ignore world events is a position of extreme privilege, one where you must feel an underlying assumption that regardless of what happens, it won’t significantly hurt you. In a world of open, mainstream hate & trans bathroom bills, that is not my position. But there is an infinite amount of hurt, pain, & trauma in the world, at an ever-increasing rate. There is no possibility of truly understanding at a personal level the pain of all the people. You can never read all the news about all the important things happening, because it would take all your time. You can never process all the suffering, because you’d never have the emotional bandwidth to process your own life & be there for people around you. Believing otherwise leads you down a rabbit hole of misery, and prevents you from doing important work in the world.

So you have to focus.

I tune a lot out. A huge chunk of political news is disguised to look like it affects you, but in reality it can be ignored. You can follow it out of curiosity, but it’s acting more as entertainment than affecting your life & work, & recognizing that frees you from feeling perpetually attached as it evolves.

There are an unending number of worthwhile causes & places to focus one’s energy to help build a more progressive world. In my work, I largely focus on 3 efforts: climate change, LGBTQ+ liberation, & giving agency to young people. Each one of these has more than a million careers’ worth of worthwhile work to do. I don’t focus on these because racial justice, immigration reform, & economic inequality aren’t also worth vastly more attention than they’re getting—I work in a few areas because if I tried to spread my work out to all these causes, my work would never amount to anything meaningful for any of them. It’s about prioritizing with purpose.

This doesn’t at all mean you should ignore what’s happening. We have a responsibility to use the internet & the unbelievable abundance of resources we have to be more aware/informed than people ever could be in the past. Being able to follow people from all walks of life & hear directly from them can genuinely build an empathy that media a few decades ago never could. We can support folks who are working on other problems than us—financially, sharing & elevating their work, collaborating. These are superpowers, magnifying all of our impacts, that never used to be possible.

One way I’ve found more impactful & efficient to keep myself informed is prioritizing reading more retrospective, longform journalism than real-time updates. Like everyone else, I’ve read an enormous number of articles about COVID this year. The (multiple) hours I spent reading The New Yorker’s “The Plague Year” recently gave me so much more insight & critical information than the sum of many small updates this year. I tend not to read a lot of non-fiction books about current events, but devoting time to longform journalism—which I read on Apple News+ now, as the quality of Medium has declined precipitously for me—has been way more useful to me.

Entertainment more than serves a role here: both in traditional forms & news. Personally, I pay outsized attention to all Apple news. It’s entertainment for me, in the same way sports are for some people: an area where there’s always something happening to distract me, largely not of consequence. Following something lacking dire consequences is one of my few escapes from this reality, & generally recommendable.

As one calamity bleeds into the next, it feels bizarre to disconnect from much of our reality as the world grows increasingly chaotic. But to stay sane & keep my motivation going to work toward the world I want to build, I can’t listen to everything. It’s about focusing on the news more impactful on my work, prioritizing work on the issues I can bring meaningful contributions to, & using more news/listening to people outside those to enrich my understanding & work of the world. We have much to do.