When I produced television shows at NBC, I would read about suffering constantly. We tried to find uplifting stories — diamonds in the rough. I would travel to places that had been scorched by a wildfire (Bastrop County, Texas) or devastated by a historic tornado (Joplin, Mo.) and meet survivors, then we would tell their stories.
The wide swath of Joplin that was hit looked like this. Trees — if they were standing at all — had been stripped bare.
My gig at NBC ended years ago, but obviously I've never stopped reading the news. In fact, I read more news on my phone now than anywhere else, and it never ends.
So much of the news is tragic (as anyone who works in news can tell you), and over time I've noticed a pattern emerging whenever I read about suffering.
Here are three mistakes I made, and I think many people make when reading about these events.
I pass the point of basic awareness of the tragedy, but I cannot close my laptop or turn off my television. I always find an excuse to keep reading the next article or opinion piece — I need to know more about who was responsible. Why did this happen?
Even though brilliant minds are working through these questions, I still feel like I must consume the news. It's as if I subconsciously think that my nonstop effort to gather information will help in some way, no matter how small.
In the morning, I'll quite literally find myself reading stories about a tragedy on my phone while I walk past the long line of hungry people at the rescue mission near my apartment. It's as if I've completely forgotten that suffering is all around me.
When I think of tragedy and suffering as remote things, I deny the reality of the world I can affect — the sphere of influence I actually live in.
I want to help, but I don't know how. I want to weep but feel so far removed. I want to know that everything is going to be OK, but that simply is not true for so many people. My mind becomes a whirling vortex of fear and frustration and even anger that I don't know what to do with.
But it is OK to weep, no matter where you are today. Because suffering is real and it is all around us. The world is full of tragedy 365 days of the year, but it also is full of hope. You are part of the hope the world needs today.
I found that my solution is pretty simple — take a moment to stop. You'll be overwhelmed if you keep reading forever.
As a person of faith, one of my favorite quotes from Scripture is, "Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21)
In the past days I've been reminded of a wonderful quote from Mr. Rogers about "looking for the helpers" when tragedy strikes. We should look for the helpers. They are present. But at some point we should close our laptops and be a helper in our small world — the one we live in and can reach. That's exactly what I want to do with however many days I have.