In This Episode
- As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close this May, we’re joined by Brian Beutler, Crooked’s Editor in Chief and host of Crooked’s Positively Dreadful, to talk about maintaining our mental health when the news gets bad, and how to stay hopeful in light of it all.
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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Tuesday, May 30th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice and this is What A Day.
Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show we’re doing something a little different as Mental Health Awareness Month comes to an end, we wanted to take some time to talk about an intersection we know all too well. I’m talking about mental health and news. When the news gets bad, it can impact our mental health and even cause stress and anxiety if we’re not taking care of ourselves.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, staying centered, optimistic and even hopeful can be hard when we’re talking about things like the attack on trans rights and mass shootings, a global pandemic, climate change, you name it. But there are tools that can help all of us stay in control of the news cycle and maintain our mental health, all while staying informed about the happenings in the world around us.
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, please do share, Josie.
Josie Duffy Rice: I have the secrets, I have all the secrets. Well, here’s where I turned to Brian Beutler to share his insights. Brian is editor in chief here at Crooked Media and he’s also the host of Positively Dreadful, a news podcast that takes listeners beyond the headlines and arms them with knowledge to make things better. He joins me now. Welcome to the show, Brian.
Brian Beutler: It’s great to be on.
Josie Duffy Rice: So Mental Health Awareness Month, very important. As a daily news podcast we are always up to date on the latest news, which as you can imagine and know, is not always super chill. The news cycle can be hard to follow, scary, stressful. So where do we draw the line and how can we be informed citizens while also like taking care of our mental health?
Brian Beutler: So I’m not sure uh there’s a great way to to balance those two things if you’re committed to being a news junkie the way you kind of have to be if you’re in the business. But what we did with Positively Dreadful is we tried to reconcile those things. We said, look like our audience cares a lot about the big issues of the day, the big political issues of the day. And the news around those issues isn’t always good. In fact, it can be really distressing sometimes. Uh. At the same time, wallowing in distress is very disempowering. Um. It can make people who want to make positive change in the world feel like the situations that they’re trying to improve are hopeless, and that is usually not the case. So we conceived of the show as a way to help people understand issues a bit more deeply, but also where their best pressure points are like how can they use their better knowledge and awareness of the issues to be more effective citizens, uh even if what we’re ultimately saying to them is that change is going to be hard and slow and that’s going to feel frustrating. And that’s different than saying the situation is so dire that it’s ultimately hopeless. And so there’s no point in caring.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Do you feel like that feeling of hopelessness is a large part of the stress of the news cycle? Do you think it’s not just the feeling of the news is bad, but also just like, what can we actually do about it?
Brian Beutler: For me it is, yes. I mean, and it’s not just that problems don’t have articulable solutions. In fact, I think a lot of the problems that we talk about on the show or that Crooked Media addresses in its various shows are theoretically very solvable. The problem we run up against often um and it’s not the only one, but it’s a big one, is that in our political system, there’s a lot of veto points. It’s easy for minorities to stop progress like popular minorities to veto the will of the majority, and that makes progress halting. Sometimes it makes it feel impossible because in the moment progress stalls completely. And that’s very unfair too. It’s not small d democratic. When we stress that to our listeners, we talk about how we might reform the political system so that on the other end of the reforms, making the more substantive changes, whether it’s to climate change or voting rights or any other issue, it’ll become easier.
Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm. What would you say a healthy news diet looks like?
Brian Beutler: No matter what your news diet is like, you want to intersperse it with things that aren’t the news.
Josie Duffy Rice: Mmm.
Brian Beutler: Reading fiction is great. Spending time with people in real life, particularly people who aren’t obsessed with the news, is great. [laugh] Beyond that, being an avid, Crooked Media subscriber is very smart. You know, I think that just in general, people on the center left from the center to the left tend to have a pretty healthy media diet. There’s a lot of surveys that suggest that people who vote for Democrats, people who conceive of themselves as liberal or progressive, they get their news from a variety of sources. They tend to trust professional media a lot more than conservatives do. And so I think that there’s already fairly good instincts among our listeners about how to find information about the issues they care about. Um. And so I just think that’s healthy and it’s already kind of in place.
Josie Duffy Rice: So you’re on WAD and, you know, this is true for so many programs we’ve unfortunately covered a lot of mass shootings in the US just this year. Right. And it sometimes it usually feels like the latest shooting we cover isn’t going to be the last, and it might not even be the last that week, right? And it’s just not easy to talk about these things as often as we do. So what advice would you give on staying centered and even positive? Uh. You know, when we are learning about kind of one tragedy after the other, especially when it seems like policy change feels, let’s say, um unlikely? [laugh]
Brian Beutler: Yeah, gun violence is probably like the archetypal issue of the one I described where the news is often fairly bleak and the prospect of radical change or change that at least feels adequate to the problem is foreclosed not just by the fact that uh we have a lot of minority rule veto points in the country. But the Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, basically says you’re out of luck. You’re not going to be able to legislate your way out of the problem. Uh. So when we’ve covered that on my show, we’ve tried to talk about the culture. How can people let their money talk, let their sort of show of force talk through protests, through ballot referenda, through sort of the results of elections, even if those elections don’t change policy so that we can have a healthier climate where even if there are still a lot of guns in the United States, there is much more of a stigma around violence as a recourse for people who are unhappy or people who are filled with hatred. And that’s not something where I think that there’s like an easy if you do X then Y will happen and things will get better. But I do think that people can take solace in the fact that if you feel, as I think both of us feel, and people who work in this company feel that the situation is untenable, that the politics of the gun rights movement are deplorable, that the overwhelming majority of the country agrees. And they might not be able to turn those numbers into legislation that fixes the problem, but that at the end of the day, the country is with us and that will lead to something, whether it’s changed the culture or maybe at some point in our later in our lifetimes, a change to the Constitution itself or the interpretation of the Constitution that lets us make policy change. It’s not out of the question that something like that could happen. It’s just we have seen time and time again it’s not going to happen in the immediate aftermath of the latest mass shooting, because for now, there’s enough people in that minority who are unmoved by it or they think that it’s a price worth paying for Second Amendment freedoms. And so you have to kind of accept that for now and look to the long term and look to the company you keep. And that story is is more positive, less dreadful.
Josie Duffy Rice: Right. What I sort of hear you saying is that policy is not the only kind of path for it. There’s culture change and there’s like shifting norms and other ways in which we take the long path, you know, to policy change, which feels like the way forward right now.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. I mean, you know, another thing that I’d say and this is a sort of maybe a slightly cynical way to look at it, but I think it’s important is that gun violence is really hard to hide from it, even if it if it never affects you personally or your children personally in that they are not direct victims of gun violence. They’re going to be touched by it at some point. And a lot of people who work in politics are impediments to change until something happens in their community and then suddenly they see the light. And it’s not the way we want change in the gun regulation space to happen. We don’t want it to have to be the case that you need to have multiple mass shootings in Texas before senators from Texas decide it matters. But the sort of forcing mechanisms of politics work that way on a lot of issues and have yielded progress on issues like gay rights in the recent past. And as long as that’s the kind of culture that they think they want to preserve, they’re going to be inviting the kinds of like horrible things into their own states and into their own districts, and their communities that they’ll ultimately regret. And then maybe they’ll give their voting records a second look.
Tre’vell Anderson: We will get back to that conversation momentarily. But first, let’s pay some bills. We’ll be back after some ads.
Tre’vell Anderson: And we’re back. Let’s get back to Josie’s conversation with Brian Beutler.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I guess there’s a quote from Mariame Kaba that I love where she says hope is a discipline. My interpretation of that is always like, in order for things to change, you really have to have hope and you have to have hope even when it’s hard to have hope. I wonder how you if that’s how you feel, how you manage that? Like how you giving actionable steps to people and ways in which they can really make change, how that helps you keep that hope?
Brian Beutler: Yeah. I’m really glad you asked. Um. You know, when we did our first episode, the idea that we wanted to touch on was this idea of optimism as an ethic rather than as sort of like a fantasy or people who run their lives on the basis of fantasy. So the idea is not that you assume that good things are always going to happen, but that you are an agent with control over aspects of your life and aspects of your community and aspects of like the whole American story. Right. And so our first guest was Jamie Raskin, a congressman from Maryland. He wrote a book after his son died about losing his optimism and or wondering if maybe his optimistic lens on politics and and society uh had been foolish. And so, you know, I think his book is ultimately about tempering your optimism with realism, about how easy it is to change society, how easy it is to reach individual people. Some just real talk to yourself about, you know, the existence of cynical people and greedy people and corrupt people like you can’t wish them away, but you can outnumber them. And you, if you understand how they operate, you can kind of preempt them and you can bring accountability to them. And that can make, you know, your efforts to improve the country easier. And then, you know, I think that, you know, the people who actually [?] work in in mental health will refer to like an external versus internal locus of control. And that if you look at the world as something you have no control over, you are just wandering through it and events are happening like lightning strikes around you and to you, you can sort of lose all sense that anything good is ever going to come into your life or in your society because it’s just constantly being beset by disasters and crises that you have no control over. I think that that intersects with the quote that you read me, what is it? Optimism is a discipline?
Josie Duffy Rice: Hope is a discipline.
Brian Beutler: Hope is a discipline.
Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm.
Brian Beutler: Is that it takes some effort to remember and to tell yourself that there is an internal locus of control that you really can affect the course of your life, the course of the lives of the people around you. But it really does take effort, particularly when you’re in a climate of bad news to do that. But it is something you can do. You just have to keep thinking about it. You just have to remind yourself of it, even even in low moments. And, you know, I don’t think that it’s necessarily a salve for anyone’s individual mental health or for politics. But without it, things really do start to descend into hopelessness because the people who want to change the world for the better will demoralize themselves. And that’s a place we definitely don’t want to go.
Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely. That’s such a great answer. Thank you so much for joining us again, Brian.
Brian Beutler: Thank you, Josie.
Josie Duffy Rice: That was my conversation with Brian Beutler, editor in chief here at Crooked Media and host of Positively Dreadful. [music break]
Tre’vell Anderson: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Take a mental health break and tell your friends to listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just inspirational quotes like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter, check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
[spoken together] And keep on hoping.
Tre’vell Anderson: Was it Jesse Jackson that said keep hope alive?
Josie Duffy Rice: It was someone.
Tre’vell Anderson: It was one of them.
Josie Duffy Rice: One of them. It was all of our ancestors [laughter] in fact. Every single one.
Tre’vell Anderson: It was like Jesse, Al Sharpton. You know, it was one of them. [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla, and Raven Yamamoto is our associate producer. We had production assistance this week from Fiona Pestana. Jocey Coffman is our head writer and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.