The virtue of bad news

Newspaper and television reports, filled with stories of hardship and misfortune, affect us on some level. Yet, each report takes on a different meaning when the casualty of war is a friend’s son or daughter, or when unemployment becomes a family member’s story.

Although the news seems to be about “the other guy,” it may be more about us than we think.

I was reminded of this the other day when a co-worker’s dear mother passed on unexpectedly. At a spry 80-plus years, she was filled with spunk and lived a strong and inspiring life. Although I never knew her personally, her death reminded me of my parents’ lives and how much their values permeate my work and friendships today. As I wrote a note to my friend the other night, I found myself thinking that her mom’s enthusiasm and drive didn’t die with her, rather, it was being passed on through the stories she shared with me and others. Her passing, a huge loss for her family, contained a small note of inspiration for me: How could I dial up my own enthusiasm for life? It was a small measure of good to be found in the bad news.

Something similar could be said for news accounts of the Haiti earthquake. Most of us have trouble relating to devastation on such a large scale, but it becomes real when a neighbor’s home is damaged by fire or flood. Suddenly “over there” moves closer to home. What does that mean to me and can I reach out to lighten the burden? Perhaps the news calls us to be a contribution.

Millions of people today are looking for work after losing their jobs to economic conditions. The big numbers and statistics shield us from individuals with faces, names, families and their own stories. For them, the bad news contains little good. Yet that judgment may be hasty, especially if causes us to miss how the closing of one door points to others we didn’t see.

And, that may be the point. Sometimes the current situation—good, bad or otherwise—can lead us, if not lull us, into complacency about how much we really have to offer others. We may accept the status quo because the not status-quo is scary or not even apparent. So, we settle for what we have because it’s convenient, if not easy and safe.

What if the “We have to let you go” message that many have heard is really “We’re setting you free.” I don’t credit employers with all that much smarts, insight or unselfishness. We have to assume that for ourselves. We must read the lines and understand the real story. We choose how we hear the message.

Being set free isn’t such a bad thing. Neither is taking a longed-for chance or a risk, something that can be scary and heartening at the same time.

Set free. Seeing new doors and opening them to a better life and greater contribution.

That’s the virtue in bad news.

Advertisements

Listening for everything

The more you listen, the more you hear, according to Gordon Hempton*, an acoustic ecologist.

But Hempton says that if you listen for something, you stay inside a narrow expectation of your previous experience and tune out what you’re not listening for. In other words, when you listen just for the sound of the cricket, or the bird, or the wind, you will often miss other sounds going on at the same time.

He contends that real listening occurs when we truly pause and let everything in, opening our ears, our heart and our mind to be filled with all there is to hear.

It’s in this listening that we hear the Universe speak.

***

*Hempton is the author of  One  Square Inch of Silence and is waging his own war to save silence from extinction.