There is light and darkness in the world. On October 1st, in one senseless act of terrorism, darkness descended upon Las Vegas. Hours later Tom Petty, a rock and roll troubadour for the past 40 years, died when his heart gave out. One of his most famous refrains comes from his hit I Won’t Back Down; You can stand me up at the gates of hell/But I won’t back down. We should not back down either.
Events, like the one in Vegas, that expose the dark underbelly of human nature often become fodder for discussions that aim to push political views. Let’s be clear, there’s no room for politics here. We all know the gun statistics, and while we can each take our stance on the right to bear arms, we cannot regulate human nature. We’re involved in a different kind of warfare now. It’s not one fought on the traditional battlefield. We don’t have a common enemy. The enemy is anyone with a grudge, a gun and a plan. It’s our modern day maelstrom. We can cringe. We can blink. But, we can’t back down.
Spiritualists of all denominations tell us that good always defeats evil; that light illuminates darkness and that right wins out against wrong. While all this may be true, it doesn’t happen in a straight line. Like the stock market that moves in fits and starts but always ends up going higher, our battle against evil will progress even when it doesn’t appear to do so. Although it is hideous and distasteful to bear witness to, the mass murder in Las Vegas commands us not to back down.
I’m always touched by how much good can be found in the midst of terror and others forms of disasters. It brings out the humanity in all of us and helps us to triumph over the negative forces that inhabit the same world we do. I’m unhappy, however, at how little air time our acts of heroism get in light of all the daily negative press coverage. It’s a low watermark of our culture that negative news sells more than anything else in the news cycle. It’s a well-known fact that ratings go up when there’s strife and dissension and go down with feel good stories. Recent studies conclude that negative stories are 30% more likely to get your attention than positive ones. The average click rate on sensationalized headlines is a stunning 63% higher than that of non-sensationalized headlines. That’s content marketing in action. As the media delivers the news that is most likely to be clicked and watched we continue to click and watch the news perpetuating an unhealthy, although seemingly satisfying, negativity.
The takeaway is that news coverage changes and molds our interest, in essence by feeding off of it. Tension and discomfort sells. Positive psychology does a good job of trying to balance out our penchant for negative news, but frankly, it’s boring. And that’s the problem. We’re drawn to negative news like rubber neckers who can’t look away from an accident. For sensitive people, who get flooded and become anxious by the constant spate of negativity, turning off the news becomes the only option. This anti-anxiety remedy may also account for the rise in memes and the wasting of endless hours looking at picture of cats on the internet. But for most of us, while we don’t approve of the negative news cycle, it excites us in some perverse way. Ultimately, what we end up doing is monitoring our exposure to the news in order to keep our sanity. To be over-exposed is to risk anxiety and depression. To be under-exposed is to risk ignorance. Consequently, we try to maintain our balance while we blindly grasp for some middle ground in spite of our intractable desire to give into today’s headlines.
In light of the tragedy in Las Vegas, moral outrage is not enough. Neither are prayer and/or good thoughts. There’s never enough we can do to address violence on any level. We have to act better to get better. It’s like the Hundredth Monkey Effect. If enough people act with consciousness society will move far enough forward to make a difference. Much like how the ripples of a stone dropped in the middle of a still lake can effect change at its outer edges, our small impulses of consciousness are enough to effect large scale change. If enough people work through local influence, it becomes global. I think Tom Petty’s second verse of I Won’t Back Down should be our new anthem. It’s an appropriate choice to honor his genius, and the memory of those fallen, while serving as a call to arms for those of us remaining:
No, I’ll stand my ground/Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down/Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down.
About the AuthorLarry Laveman, LCSW, BCD, is a Psychotherapist and Author in Solana Beach, California. His publications include topics on marriage counseling, supervision, mental health and spirituality. He is the former Chief Clinical Director for Harmonium, Inc., a community based nonprofit organization specializing in children, adolescents and families. You can find contact him via Google +, LinkedIn, or this website's contact page.