What to Do When the News Is All Bad

I’m standing in the dark, but I can hear the daylight.

In my neck of the woods, as autumn becomes more frail, cicadas mark the daytime—around midday, they awake and begin their daily song. Then, around sundown, they are supposed to recede, and the crickets preside over the darkness, humming until daybreak. And yet, sometimes, they overlap.

I’m standing in the dark, but I can hear the daylight.

If I listen closely, threaded throughout the din of crickets, I can hear the rebellious hum of cicadas refusing to go gently into the night. And here’s the thing: if you listen closely, a bunch of insects can teach you about how darkness and light really work:

Always, darkness and light overlap.


Photo Credit: Spaxia (Bigstock)

There is, it seems, darkness everywhere right now. Charlottesville and hate, hurricanes and devastation. Earthquakes in Mexico, a massacre in Vegas, wildfires in California. The darkness of political and racial division everywhere, even on a gridiron. Data breaches and the dark web and the unfathomable darkness it harbors. Terror and trafficking and more terror.

If you read the headlines, it is easy to believe darkness reigns.

But the truth is, the news is called the news not because it is common, but because it is rare. If my kids came to me and told me they had big news and I asked what it was and they told me they’d just gone to the bathroom, I’d tell them that’s not news. News is the exception to the rule. So, when the news industry reports on the darkness, they are flooding you with outliers. That’s their job.

The truth is, there’s not enough server space in all the world to contain the very, very common light in all the world. The good news is so common, there’s not enough channels on television to contain it all. In fact, the good news is so ordinary, it’s not news at all. It’s just life. And it’s happening right here, right now, all the time, in the midst of the very sensational darkness.

Always, darkness and light overlap.

Just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine was in a department store. From the next aisle, he could hear a mother playfully talking to her infant child. He could hear the child giggle and gurgle in reply. The interaction was so sweet, he peered around the corner to see it. The baby was nestled in a car seat and tucked into a shopping cart. The mother was lovingly hovering over her, smiling and laughing, too. But the mother was bald.

In a department store aisle, the darkness of cancer and the light of laughter and love overlapped.

After peeking around the corner, it’s hard to see anything but the darkness of the mother’s cancer, the gloaming of the grief that may lay ahead. Darkness does that to us. It surrounds us and, like the din of crickets, threatens to drown out everything else.

We have to listen closely for the sounds of the daylight.

But if we do, we’ll discover it’s always there, simply dwelling in the midst of the darkness. You see, light doesn’t try to destroy darkness. Light simply enters into darkness, dwells within darkness, and insists on existing, too. It refuses to go gently into the night. Light simply overwhelms the darkness, with sheer volume, until there is so much of it that it can’t even be called news anymore.

Sure, sometimes the darkness is easier to see. Sometimes we have to listen a little harder for the sounds of beauty and love and generosity and sacrifice and kindness and peacefulness and tenderness. Sometimes we have to remember what we heard when we were one aisle over and the darkness wasn’t quite so obvious. But if we listen, we’ll hear it:

Peace overlapped with hate in Charlottesville. Sacrifice overlapped with massacre in Vegas. Charity is overlapping with destruction in Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico. Heroism is overlapping with heat in California. Discourse is overlapping with division everywhere. Peace is overlapping with terror, and love is overlapping with fear.

There is light here, if you listen for it.

And then there’s this: if you listen long enough to the light in the midst of the darkness, you will happen upon a deeply graceful mystery: it is the light in you which hears the light in everything else. So, to be the light, you don’t even need to become something new; all you have to do is be the very ordinary light you already are. That is the very good news, so common it’s not even news. It’s just good.

Overwhelm the darkness.

Do the one thing darkness can’t do: shine in the midst of it.

Give us something beautiful to listen for, from one aisle over.

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Loveable is about rediscovering that light within you. It's available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

31 thoughts on “What to Do When the News Is All Bad

  1. Thanks for this post. I take care of my two year old grandson so it’s easier for me to see and hear the light most days! But, I live in Gainesville, FL where a certain person will be speaking at my beloved University tomorrow…So, I needed this reminder to look and listen for the light through the darkness.

  2. I love the idea of “overlap”. So true! Life is never all bad or all good. Loved the story of cricket sounds overlapping with cicadas, which illustrates beautifully the textures of life. Thanks Kelly!

  3. This topic resides in the moral wheelhouse of each individual. All this boils down to what you believe and how you act upon those beliefs. Here is what I believe:

    Light is a gift from God and it can grow.
    People stuck in darkness will not see the light until they open their eyes, ears, and hearts to God.
    There is no other way.
    The Lord has open arms to welcome EVERYONE who will accept the way of light He has provided.

    Some verses from scripture that support my thoughts can be found here:
    (Doctrine and Covenants 50: 24)(Doctrine and Covenants 45:7)(John 8:12)(Mormon 6:17)(Mosiah 3:17)

  4. “the news is called the news not because it is common, but because it is rare.” – So often overlooked. This is something I’ve reminded myself and others over the years, hoping to give them some relief from the dread of it all, but…

    “… they are flooding you with outliers. That’s their job.”

    Yes, their job is to keep you watching so you can see the commercials. Now, if you’re like me, you might think their job is to inform. In fairness it is one of their tasks, but not the primary one. #1 is to keep a person watching so advertisers pay them money. In times of panic, people watch news. There is a lot of money from their advertisers tied to # of people watching. That makes for tremendous incentive to present things in a way to ensure people will continue to watch – even if it isn’t true. Anything from exaggeration to outright lies is fair game, as long as people keep watching.

    Best part? none of this is new. Don Henley wrote Dirty Laundry in 1982 (Really? Damn I’m old). But if a story already matches up with a prejudice I have? Then forget everything I just wrote, because this time it’s REAL! 🙂

    Bill Hicks had a quote: “Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye.” He had a point

      • I agree, that is a great quote, Mike! And your comment is much appreciated. Seems it might be up to us as people to become so enthralled by good news that advertisers are willing to pay big bucks to be sandwiched between stories of light that none of us can take our eyes off of.

  5. “News is the exception to the rule. So, when the news industry reports on the darkness, they are flooding you with outliers. That’s their job.”

    And that job often has a marginal relationship with any purpose we’d otherwise hope, expect, or want the news to serve.

    For me, those are the most important sentences in the whole post. Their job is to keep us watching. We humans are wired to be more easily riveted to the bad, the negative, the imagination-spurring (bad things we can’t control that might get worse are a fertile territory), than we are to the good, bright, or hopeful. It’s a freaking bum deal – media tactics and wiring alike.

    Some days it’s difficult to cope intelligently, tell oneself another kind of story.

    The stupid-sounding gratitude journal (five things each day) is practicable and effective. What else? How else? Some days just looking around isn’t enough.

    A favorite bumper sticker, seen fifteen years ago: commit random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

    (Kelly, I had just finished composing my comment when 9am hit, but didn’t have the extra moments to post it. Then you touched on some of my thoughts in the podcast this morning. Funny, that.)

    • Ha! Yes, we did get into some of this this morning, Julie! Our primitive brain is wired to watch for danger, so we must train ourselves to watch for the good and the beautiful, the light. In a sense, we are training ourselves to do something that is not natural, or, put another way, supernatural, until the supernatural becomes our habit. Thanks for practicing, Julie!

      • Hm. That’s a good use of “super-” and I’m getting super (ha) tripped up on the connotations of “supernatural”.

        Also, “watching for the light” calls to mind a story you wrote about when a cloud of depression parked itself on you.

        For me, shining a little light on the mechanism allows taking-a-less-obvious-point-of-view to become a reasonable attempt at balance, rather than just being willful about how I want to see things.

        Another thought is to look at whatever media is in front of us (sure, even this blog) as, this is not here for my good but for theirs; does it coincide with what’s good for me? I think most people have a sense for that, when we’re not busy flooding ourselves with quick-hit stimulation (the hormone name(s) are lost on me). Not that there’s anything wrong with junk food, I’m just campaigning for a balanced diet here. (Aaaaand we’re circling back to the podcast challenges…)

        And in that regard it’d be fair to say that you’re writing the post that you need to write and I’m offering the information that would make it the one I need to read. 😉 Thanks, as always, for the space.

  6. I always enjoy what you write so it’s not news that this is a great post! But I truly loved it. Hope in the darkness that does seem like Mordor is winning. A really important reminder that it’s not. It’s just really noisy.

  7. This reminded me of the last part of the verse I was memorizing the beginning of this month “Romans 13:12b, “So walk out on your old dark life and put on the armor of light.: The Voice Having an armor of light is great protection in the dark places of this world. Let me be someone who is wearing it.

  8. This applies equally, and even more intensely, to personal darkness. There is always light within, regardless of how shadowed things seem in our lives: we ARE light. It’s hard to reach for the light sometimes, hard to *allow* the light to warm us and lighten our world, but it’s there. And a single candle can light an entire cave. Namaste: the light in me recognizes and honors the light in you.

  9. I love this! How grateful am I that scripture tells us, “I loved you at your darkest” in Romans 5:8. All. Is. GRACE. So lovely to meet you and Kelly in Newport recently. You shed much light on your visit to our city. Thank you for your truth, wisdom, and encouragement.

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