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Notifications: Where Empathy Goes To Die

Our culture is a mess right now. Our political culture, our health culture, our relationship culture. It’s a mess. I don’t mean to say that it only just now became a mess and has never been a mess before. The world has always been a mess. It’s messiness just evolves and changes and sometimes we notice it and sometimes we don’t. This particular mess, has me noticing though.

I’ve been having ongoing conversations with my therapist the past couple of months about social media and technology and how it impacts my life. At the beginning of December, I turned off all my social media notifications. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter…none of them send me notifications anymore. As silly as it sounds, it was a semi-hard transition. I had to work myself up to turning off the notifications and, at the beginning, I was checking my socials even more than normal because I had this fear I would miss a notification I needed to see. The longer they were off though, the more relaxed I became.

After that development, I came back to my therapist with a new issue. What if I don’t feel informed? This is a question one of my 18 year old youth from my job asked me about. She’s very politically savvy and stays up-to-date on anything and everything happening in the political and news sphere. However, the constant barrage of it all was causing her so much anxiety, she came to me in tears one day over the state of our country (also she’s the world’s biggest empath so that didn’t help either). I suggested she turn off her notifications for a while and her response was “But how do I stay informed”? I didn’t have a good answer so I brought it to the good old therapist. I told her about how hard it is to step away sometimes because it’s such a sin nowadays to be uninformed. If you don’t know exactly what’s happening, you’re uneducated and obviously don’t care about the goings on of things the way the person next to you who received all the informing notifications this morning is.

My therapists response: “Well…what’s your definition of informed?”

What is my definition of informed? Does being informed mean knowing every news update and decision the second it hits the stand (per say)? Does it mean knowing within a few days time of something happening in the political sphere? Within a week? If my answer is that I have to know the second something happens, then why? Why do I need to know the second something happens? I will be equally as informed if I know the next day. The world spun just fine when everyone knew the news the day after as they sipped their coffee and flipped through the paper.

Choosing to turn off notifications on things like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, news outlets, etc. gives us back the power to choose when and how we engage with things. Right now, our culture is overrun by the inability to choose how we engage. We receive text messages, notifications, emails, and news updates constantly throughout the day without ever allowing ourselves and our brains the choice whether or not to engage. Let that soak in for a minute. You’re walking into a big meeting that you’ve been stressed out about for ages. Your stomach is in knots. You have anxiety. As you walk into that meeting, *ping*, a notification from Twitter: “20 dead in car bomb outside of Texas”. You casually look down at your phone, take in the information, slide the phone back into your pocket, and walk into the dreaded meeting. Are you kidding me? You just found out that twenty human beings died. Twenty families lost a daughter, mother, brother, uncle, father. Twenty sets of friends lost one of their people. And you think you can just casually sort that into your brain files and walk into something else and not process it? Absolutely not!

We have to prepare our brains and emotions to take in information. We can’t receive thirty notifications a day that offer us massive emotional highs and massive emotional lows and assume that our empathy and sanity won’t suffer when we hit the pillow and haven’t allowed ourselves to process a shred of information all day long. To top it off, because we’re taking this all so casually, our empathy is what’s at stake. Everything is so laissez faire. We don’t properly react to loss of life, to mass losses of life, to forest fires, to almost everything. Life did not all of a sudden get crazy though. There have been constant “notifications” of insane happenings around the world forever and always. We just didn’t know about them. And yes, there is good to knowing now. We are the most connected and knowledgable we have ever been. But is that always a good thing? It’s taking a toll on us as human beings that we are unknowingly being stripped of our decision to engage.

You choose when you engage. You choose when you have thirty minutes or an hour to take in the intensity that is the news and politics right now. You choose when your self-esteem and self worth are in a place to be able to scroll through Instagram and Facebook. You choose when you engage with work emails. Yes. Even that. Your job does not own you and you are allowed to choose when you engage with work emails (for the most part; I hear you doctors and on-call people).

As we burst into this new year with more information and knowledge at our fingertips than ever before, I encourage you to pay attention to when you engage. Did you engage because you wanted to? Or did you engage because that little blue bar popped up on your phone and you automatically swiped, opened, and started consuming. Be aware and choose to engage.

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