After two long years of turning inward and obsessing about ourselves, experts say consuming a broad media diet can make us feel better.
Reopening our hearts and minds to the world via news and current affairs has wellbeing benefits coming out of our Covid cave.
After two years of turning inward, experts say obsessing about personal safety and political ideology has made us less empathetic as well as less resilient. And cut off from friends, adventure and rites of passage, Australia’s anxious young adults could come off the blocks
as our most globally-minded generation yet.
Professor of Educational Psychology at the Australian Catholic University, John Munro suggests young adults can build empathy via visual news broadcasts.
“If they can create virtual experiences … and imagine they were there … they’re more likely to actually draw in emotion,” Prof Munro says.
But a narrow diet of news and current affairs reinforces rigid dichotomies like right/left and black/white and “causes us to be more insular and closed”.
“In some ways we are less tolerant of difference now than we were 50 years ago,” he says.
“That’s a real issue for us. The focus on personal comfort, identity and so on, doesn’t set people up to cope in this world.”
Consuming news and views widely develops agency and empowerment, Prof Munro suggests. “This is just so important all the way through life,” he says.
“There are all sorts of things that we don’t know … that we can’t do, that we can’t control, but how far can I go with all that I can do? We will continue to be stressed if we don’t seek opportunities for doing things.”
Social researcher Mark McCrindle says “great leaders and those that have influence in societies traditionally have always had that broad diet of consumption in terms of where they get their news and views from.”
The shrill extremes of social media and politics have “been a loss for us and for the social fabric of our national and local community”, McCrindle says.
“As we lose that ability to interact, connect and have that polite social discourse, we lose something of what it is to be Australian.
“Wellbeing starts at the individual level and the best way to develop that resilience, robustness and to have that intellectual character forged is to hear different views and to have the opportunity to respond. Without that we can’t develop empathy – to be able to hear those different experiences, relate to them and build bridges.”
Kate de Brito, executive director of news streaming service Flash, says being unwilling to consider other viewpoints is “where you run into real problems”.
Flash brings together more than 20 global and local news services, delivering content and opinion from such diverse sources as CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC World, Bloomberg and Sky.
That kind of breadth is “particularly important for young people”, de Brito says, pointing to the recent COP26 climate conference, escalating famine in Africa and the plight of Afghanis as among issues galvanising teens and young adults into taking positive action.
“If you can get great, really credible news … and you can get them to learn a little bit more about the world that way, I think that’s a way to engender not just knowledge but empathy.”
Third-year university students Liam Spinks and Imogen Smith, both 21, consume news across traditional and social platforms.
“It feels good to feel informed,” says Spinks.
Both say the social media “bubble” can “isolate” users into narrow world views via the algorithms controlling the feed.
Also denied the “Roman town square” exchange of ideas on campus thanks to Covid, the couple says knowledge of world affairs makes them feel better.
“It gives me a sense of peace to know what’s going on,” Smith says.
BRING BACK THE DINNER DEBATE
A broad diet of credible news is good for wellbeing because it helps us think more independently and be more open to others. Here are some questions family members can ask each other around the table. Taking a position you don’t hold is a powerful empathy tool because you put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
– What is missing or not being said?
– Why didn’t they mention the other side of the story?
– Where are the people in all this?
– Where have these ideas come from?
– Are there other ways of thinking about this information?
– What other sources of reliable information should I find?
– Who else knows a lot about this subject?
– I don’t agree with this opinion – but why does someone think that?
Originally published as Why a wider world media diet might help restore our mojo