The news these days is heavy. For admirable reasons, many are trying to educate themselves about contentious issues by reading stories, hearing perspectives, or watching videos. Conflicts abroad are having effects back home with protests, hate speech, and worse. 

And yet, it is the time of year when many Canadians typically celebrate holidays. Understandably, for some, this might provoke a sense of guilt. Should we celebrate – can we celebrate – knowing how much suffering there is elsewhere? Would that be heartless?

Below, I want to suggest that being informed has changed in recent times in ways that politicize our lives so thoroughly that it is likely doing us some harm. My suggestion is that if you and your family typically celebrate at this time (or any other time) of the year, then it is wise to continue doing so. Celebrating can help us cope and is good for us and for those around us.

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Politics Today is Uniquely Relentless

In 1990, the news was something you read in the morning paper and watched for 20 minutes in the evening. You might also chat about it at the water cooler or hear it on the radio while driving. Today, social media brings us the news relentlessly. You can see it virtually every hour of the day, including weekends, and it comes more viscerally – with video of people crying and dead bodies being carried away. Every day on earth, there are weddings and people giving birth to their first child…but the news we see finds the hard stuff – the most graphic and hard-to-take images and stories in the world. 

Blame the Media?

Many blame the media…but I think the issue is us. Or, at least, our brains. Humans have a negativity bias where our brains pay more attention to negative events. It’s a survival mechanism as it paid historically to pay inordinate attention to risks. But today, it means we are less likely to read positive stories, less likely to post them, and less likely to comment and tell others about them. Media outlets need attention so they follow what we, the consumers, show them we want. They track what stories get clicks and what don’t. And on social media, we can’t blame CNN…it’s mostly us deciding what goes viral. We have this flaw…but we can be aware of it.  

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But I Want to Be Informed

Being informed is valuable, enabling us to make wise decisions in interacting with others, in taking political action, and in directing our charitable dollars.

But if being informed starts to ruin our sense of the world, it steals our ability to foster goodness in our own circles. Despair weighs on us and those around us. It robs us of our ability to support our loved ones.

Joy and Gratitude Foster Resilience

Psychological studies show clearly that joy and gratitude make us more resilient. They remind us of the good in life that perhaps social media and television do not. They make us feel connected and remind us of how much we have. 

Festivals like Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa give us opportunities to connect with our loved ones, to think about our own worlds of family, friends, and community, and what we can do to support one another. Gift-giving or feasting isn’t just about getting things – they bond us to one another and fill our cups to face the adversities that will come and to help others when adversities come their way.

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Is Marking Hanukkah Too Political This Year?

The city of Moncton has been in the news for deciding to end a 20 year tradition of putting up a menorah at city hall this year. The mayor indicated this was about separating church and state, but the article highlights that the Christmas trees and angel décor make this a hard sell. (Gratefully, the public backlash caused Moncton to reverse this decision). Other cities in the USA and UK have made similar moves, arguing that marking Hanukkah is too political this year and will “inflame tensions.” 

I think cancelling practices like this is a mistake. If you have criticisms of India’s Prime Minister, do not cancel Diwali celebrations for Hindus in Ohio. Opposition to China’s government should not lead to a Toronto workplace deciding to stop honouring Chinese New Year. This approach assigns group guilt – the Jews of Williamsburg, Virginia (see the USA story above) have no say over the actions of the Israeli government and should not be held accountable. Members of the Jewish community do not themselves agree on any political question including the current Israeli government but that is not relevant here.

It’s not political to say happy Diwali or happy Hanukkah – it’s just kind. 

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    1. Laurie vandenHurk December 8, 2023 at 2:48 am - Reply

      Excellent article … and so needed!

    2. Michaelyn Shelley-David December 8, 2023 at 4:05 am - Reply

      Fabulous blog. Thank you so much. You point out very relevant issues with references or articles that I might not be aware of otherwise.

      • Brian Carwana December 20, 2023 at 7:31 pm - Reply

        Glad you found it useful!

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