Back to Reality (of sorts)

I’m finally back from a much-needed summer-long hiatus, during which I’d planned to reflect on the future of my blog. It’s been five years since I started blogging, and I was beginning to ask myself, do I continue as before, change something or, stop blogging altogether?

As it happened, I did precious little reflection; instead, I spent a large part of the summer focused on breathing and meditation, reading and sleeping. And, before I knew it, it was already September, and the children went back to school, hallelujah.

My children were decidedly less enthusiastic about going back to school, the 14-year-old insisting that she learnt “way more” from Pinterest than she ever did at school, while her 10-year-old sister questioned the usefulness of education altogether.

“First you study for like, forever, then you work until you get old, and then you die. Where’s the fun in that?”

The absence of an ‘air bridge’ between Britain and Sweden meant we were unable to travel to our usual summer spot in the south of Sweden; unable to see my parents and my 98-year-old grandmother. Instead, we holidayed in the UK: a week-long trip to Dorset, which was gorgeous and restful; followed by a less glamorous visit to Devon, where my youngest child got hooked on the quintessential English seaside entertainment: spending all your money (or in my daughter’s case, her parents’ money) at a dingy games arcade.

On our return to London, I fell headlong into a dark hole of stress and anxiety. At first, I couldn’t understand why this had happened to me in the middle of the summer holidays, the least stressful time of year, but then I thought again.

Here’s what I discovered: the news is detrimental to my health and wellbeing; Boris Johnson is unquestioningly bad for my health and wellbeing, and so are Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon, ditto Twitter and Facebook. I’d had my suspicions for a while, but it was on reading Dutch historian Rutger Bregman’s recent book, Humankind, that my suspicions were confirmed. Bregman writes,

“I was raised to believe that the news is good for your development. That as an engaged citizen it’s your duty to read the paper and the evening news. That the more we follow the news, the better informed we are and the healthier our democracy. This is still the story many parents tell their kids, but scientists are reaching very different conclusions. The news, according to dozens of studies, is a mental health hazard.”

Like Bregman, I too was raised to be a diligent and responsible consumer of the news, but no more. I might still glance at the paper lying on the kitchen counter, but I won’t engage fully. The evening news and any press briefing from 10 Downing Street is entirely out of bounds.

News, argues Swiss writer Rolf Dobelli, “is to the mind what sugar is to the body: appetising, easily digestible and extremely damaging. The media is feeding us titbits that taste palatable but do nothing to satisfy our hunger for knowledge. Unlike books and well-researched long-form articles, the news cannot satiate us.” My own addiction to 24-hour news is proof enough that Bregman and Dobelli are right.

Having established that news and politics are bad for my health and wellbeing, what, then, is good for me? Breathing deeply, meditating (after multiple failed efforts in my life, I’ve finally got the hang of it), shrugging my shoulders and walking away at the mere mention of news, politics or just about anything Covid-related.

No, I’m not in denial about the many ghastly, depressing, outrageous and outright criminal events plaguing the world, and yes, I wear (albeit reluctantly) a face mask as required in shops and other public spaces.

But, as blasphemous as it sounds coming from a political scientist with an advanced degree in international relations, I’ve finally come to realise that politics isn’t the be-all and end-all and that knowledge and wisdom are about the last thing you’ll gain from diligently following the news.

So for now, I will not be blogging about Brexit, the US election, or politics in general. There are plenty of people doing that already, so there’s no need for me to join them.

Then what WILL I blog about? I don’t know. Whatever takes my fancy, I guess, whatever makes my heart sing, which at present is limited to two things: newborn babies and African elephants.

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