The other morning I was strolling around my local area at 7am, pushing my son in his pram, not particularly thinking about anything.
I was watching people jogging, heading to work, delivering packages, walking their dogs, and doing whatever else people do at that time in the morning. In between making funny faces at my son to make him laugh, I vaguely thought about how nice it was to just watch the world quietly “working”.
Then I suddenly realised how different my reality could have been if I’d made different choices with my own morning. If I’d turned on the radio, or tapped a bookmark for bbc.co.uk on my phone, or opened up Twitter, I could have had my head filled with a very different set of thoughts. I could have ended up worried about the outcome of some political vote I can’t control, angry with someone who disagrees with me on some aspect of my work, or sad about some disaster on the other side of the world.
I’ve avoided the news for so long now, it just feels normal – and when I remember that most people dose up on disaster and scandal before they leave the house (maybe even before they get out of bed), it actually scares me.
So many people are walking around carrying the weight of all the world’s problems. On top of potential problems that haven’t even happened yet. On top of other people’s random anger and projections. What toll is that having on their day? And what knock-on effect is that having on everyone else’s day?
Occasionally, I feel bad for creating my own filtered reality and opting out of the worrying, scary and dangerous. But then I think: what is reality anyway? Is the version of reality you’re getting from the news the “true” reality? What about the version you get from your Facebook feed?
You can only pay attention to a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of everything that’s going on in the world today. It’s not the case that after reading the news you find yourself fully appraised of everything that’s going on: you’ve just exposed yourself to the tiny, infinitesimal fraction that someone else has decided you should know about.
Once you acknowledge you can only pay attention to a tiny fraction, it seems obvious to me that you might as well choose the fraction that most enriches your day. That doesn’t mean filtering out all the bad and pretending everything is fantastic: there might be some things you can control or help with, which you want to know about.
It just means being selective, and consciously deciding which ideas, concerns and thoughts get to enter your head. And that’s why in a minute I’ll be taking my son out for a walk, and quietly observing how interesting it is to see the world going about its morning.