It is easy to see that gossip and hysteria play a role in news. The question is, how much of the news is gossip and hysteria? Obviously, gossip and news do correlate in the ‘big picture’ and so strictly speaking, they are equivalent.
We think of news as a serious attempt to get at the truth, while gossip is more about an exchange of frivolous hearsay. Yet, as they say, one person’s serious is another person’s frivolous. The Science News article, Making informed decisions about mammograms, relates to this contrast. In light of the widely covered uproar over advice on mammograms, this little tidbit really struck me.
“Imagine 10,000 women age 40. Over the next 10 years, without mammogram screening, about 35 will die of breast cancer. With screening, 30 will die — five fewer.
But of 10,000 getting screened, 600 to 2,000 will have at least one false positive leading to a biopsy, and 10 to 50 will be over-diagnosed. They will be told they have cancer, and they will undergo surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, which can only hurt them since their cancer was never destined to cause symptoms or death.”
Five fewer deaths out of 10,000 is the benefit of mammograms at age 40, against the host of negatives of over diagnosis, false positives, etc. I never heard that really explained in the news, and I know why; it is a balanced view that requires personal judgment and reflection. How boring is that!
This is just one example, but it makes me wonder about the other news stories, from daily crimes and turmoils to global warming. When gossip and hysteria can so easily play a role in the news, it is tempting to downplay all the news. It is like Aesop’s Fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, which ends with the old man saying, “Nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth!” You see the same idea in the 25-century-old folk tale, Chicken Little, with its hysterical claim of “The sky is falling!” and in the Buddhist Jâtaka Tales, The Foolish, Timid Rabbit, where upon hearing noise, the Rabbit claims “The earth is all breaking up!”
The take home message for me is that nothing much has changed since Buddha’s and Aesop’s time. Sure, the tools, mores and styles of culture have changed profoundly, but the essentials are the same, as are people. It is comforting to know some things never change even when the world around us is changing at what seems like light speed. On the other hand, how comforting is it feeling that what really needs to change never seems to?
What else can one do but seize the moment and make the most of it, as Chapter 19 hints, Exhibit the unadorned and embrace the uncarved block, Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible. Note: This is not saying one must be perfect, but instead to do “as possible”. For me, doing “as possible” is true natural perfection, as opposed to a ‘carved’ and ‘adorned’ human ideal of perfection.