Saturday, January 2, 2010

Why the hell are all these knuckleheads talking about COMPASSION all of a sudden!

People on TV and radio seem to yell a lot more that they did in the past. Well, not yell, but they are very angry and they tend to make me angry. It is, on the whole, an unpleasant experience.

It started many years ago. I remember living in the New York area in the eighties and many of my friends couldn’t get enough of this new DJ Howard Stern. I tried listening to him, but I found myself savagely punching the radio buttons to change the station…change it to ANYTHING else…because I found the experience of listening to Howard jabber on endlessly incredibly annoying. Howard was on an FM station. In the eighties, I didn’t listen to AM stations – Cousin Brucie and the Spanish language stations were all you found on the AM dial. I later came to understand that there was a revolution happening on AM.

Rush Limbaugh started his conservative talk show in Sacramento in 1984. He moved to New York in 1988 and has since built a financial empire based on vitriol. Please visit “The Rush Limbaugh Store” web page to purchase your tee shirts and coffee mugs. Today, there are dozens of Rush wannabes who are getting rich by making you angry. This trend has metastasized onto every conceivable media outlet. And getting rich seems to be what it’s all about. Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Bill O’Reilly all have their own monetized web sites with tee shirts etc. And these sites are owned by the personality, not the media outlet.

I called them personalities, because they are not political commentators. The only honest one of this bunch, in my opinion, is Neil Bortz who labels himself a provocateur. This distinction makes sense to me except when people like Ann Coulter start showing up on Meet the Press. Hey George Will, what is that all about?

As this trend emerged, I found myself retreating, crablike, into the safe, reliable haven of The New York Times, NPR and PBS. Some said I was being “hoodwinked by the liberal media”, so I got a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. I read articles like “Learning To Love Insider Trading” and “2009: Banner Year for Stocks”, but the newspaper just didn’t seem to be written for my demographic.

Lately though, I have become quite enamored with alternative forms of media. I listen to a podcast from The Commonwealth Club, a 100 year old San Francisco civic organization, which has had the likes of Ralph Nader, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bob Barr, Harry Reid, General George Casey, Arianna Huffington, George Shultz, and Paul Krugman on in the last 12 months. I also have discovered TED, a library of video podcasts of interesting people who have “ideas worth spreading”. And NY Times columnist David Brooks just turned me on to a great web site for printed articles called Arts and Letters Daily. All these sites will point you to many thought provoking stories that will not air on CNN.

While listening, watching and reading these media outlets, I am surprised at how often compassion comes into the conversation. Ideas like triple bottom line economics, social networking for the greater good and sustainability keep coming up in conversations on these shows. Naturally, listening and enjoying certain people has lead me to find other outlets – Speaking of Faith for example. I would characterize his program as a weekly, hour-long discussion on the meaning of compassion.

The more I listen and watch these shows, the less time I have for “regular” TV and radio. I certainly don’t watch ANY of the 24-hour news programs. And so I have come to realize that I have stitched together a new and different way of being informed, stimulated and entertained without a) having someone try to sell me something every 10 minutes and b) getting angry.

I still read about the bombings and the war(s) in the Times and I still fume about the bonuses that the fat cats on Wall Street are pulling down. But I find that I’m pretty knowledgeable about most issues that really matter when I converse with others – more so actually. The problem is that I have started to realize that many people I come in contact with live in an alternate universe. Bristol Palin’s boyfriend, balloon boy, Gov. Sanford’s affair and President Obama’s birth certificate were all “issues” that I learned about around the coffee machine at work. These are the big news items of the day? I just don’t understand it.

So I present you with this idea. You can build your own media pool. And it is possible to say informed – really informed – without a 24-hour news cycle. This does not mean that you will be retreating into a fantasy world where everybody is a good and compassionate lover of humankind - quite the contrary. You will be making a conscious decision to avoid the relentless assault on your humanity. Along with thoughtful discussions of important issues; you will also be exposed to new ideas on how we can build a better world. You will hear from smart people who care. And you will have a more positive outlook on the human condition. And most importantly, you will shut off the desensitizing machine; the one that is making you “emotionally insensitive or unresponsive, as by long exposure or repeated shocks”.

Here is an example of what I mean. On April 30, 2009 WTKK slapped Jay Severin, a right wing talk show host, with an indefinite suspension for making derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants. "In addition to venereal disease," he said at one point, "and other leading exports of Mexico - women with mustaches and VD - now we have swine flu." Continuing in that vein, Severin called America "the magnet for primitives from around the world," adding: "Millions of leeches from a primitive country come here to leech off you." He also said hospital emergency rooms had become "essentially condos for Mexicans" and expressed surprise that Americans hadn't been exposed to more serious diseases before, "considering the number of criminaliens already here."

What Severin said seemed horrible to me, but Emily Rooney, host of WGBH's "Greater Boston" and a regular Severin listener was quoted as saying, "I was tuned in that day, and nothing Jay said jumped out at me."

So I have to ask - did Serervin offend you? Did anything “jump out” at you? If the answer is yes, than I would like you to consider making a conscious choice of what media you will access.

Try it.

And if it works…blow up your TV.

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