Helpless vs. Hopeful

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Have you ever been so moved or enraged by something that it has compelled you to do something about it? Sometimes these feats we take on may seem doubtful or even impossible, yet somehow we manage to force our vision to become a reality. And if not, those of us that are lucky enough to be armored with high levels of self-efficacy will try, try ,try again! Self-efficacy is the belief that our actions are able to make a difference and our efforts are able to create change. This potential is essential to making us active agents in our own lives, rather than passive observers. If this powerful ingredient is absent, people are less likely to take action when confronted with a challenge.

The news presents a number of challenges facing the world, presumably with the aim of bringing these problems to our attention to create a collective will to solve them. However, it is not enough to simply bring these issues to our attention; how these stories are presented plays an important role in whether we feel empowered enough to address them, or if instead we feel overwhelmed by their enormity to lower our expectations and accept them.

The majority of news does the latter. In its quest for speed, entertainment and viewers, it often emphasizes the negative aspects of life in a sensationalized manner that creates an imbalanced reflection of the world in which we live. This imbalance presents an edited version of the truth which may have been presented with other objectives in mind rather than to fulfill the sole purpose of the news, which is “the publishing of new and notable information for the purpose of engaging and informing citizens in a way that empowers them to be able to act on the information presented” (Lippman, 1922).

In a recent research paper, focusing on the psychological impact of the news, the majority of readers expressed feeling disempowered by reading about unresolved or growing problems. There was a shared feeling that they felt unable to do something and they identified it as making them “feel small”, “feel isolated”, “feel powerless” and “feel helpless”. Participants expressed the following:

“It’s been the case for a long time that the mainstream media has… essentially disempowered citizens from their ability to take action in the world”

In contrast, participants linked reading Positive News to making them feel more empowered by “making people aware of specific developments and initiatives”, showing that there can be effective resolve and progress in response to problems and helps them believe that their actions are able to make a difference:

“By highlighting small but significant steps, it exposes the reader to possibility and can empower them to realize their own potential to make a difference”

“The action taken may not be directly related to content of article but more inclined to roll up sleeves and do something about something”

We are easily led by the news; Houdini created illusions by famously saying, “what the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes”. Whilst I am not reducing the news to an information magic trick, it is important to note that we presented with a version of reality that has a powerful influence on how we interpret the world around us and as to whether we are empowered by this information or pacified by it. We must, therefore, remain vigilant in our own personal search for the truth so as not to bed blindly led by the presenters of it. It is important we pick our sources of news carefully to create balance, context, awareness and hope. With this in mind, the purpose of positive news or constructive journalism is not to report a life without challenge, but instead recognize that crisis can be a starting point for growth. With so many problems and challenges facing the world, self-efficacy is an important resource to help us become energized enough to address these problems constructively.

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