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05/10/07 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin
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(HOST) Taking a break from the headlines can be good for your emotional health, says commentator Madeleine Kunin, as long as it's not permanent.

(KUNIN) On a recent vacation, we managed to wean ourselves away from daily newspapers and the evening news, except we did receive a brief summary of the New York Times each morning with our breakfast.

The exception was important. If a catastrophe had occurred, we would have known about it.

The respite from learning the details about daily tragedies in Iraq, war in Darfur and the presidential campaign in the United States was good for both body and soul - a real vacation.

Many of us have to turn off the news flow from radio, television and newspapers every once in a while to regain our balance, to not be overwhelmed by what is wrong in the world and to focus on what is right - a beautiful blue sky May morning, the taste of fresh bread, the laugh of a seven month old grandson.

I spoke to the mother of two young children recently who said that for a while she shut everything out because it was simply too depressing.

I can understand her and others who do not want to hear the bad news that seems to greet us each day. And yet, I worry that by turning off the news of the world, we are becoming increasingly uninformed - a dangerous trend for a democracy which relies on an informed public to make decisions.

Only by paying attention to the suffering of others can we be moved to do something about their condition, whether it is in Darfur or Iraq or Virginia Tech, or a small Kansas town devastated by a tornado.

Before news stories were transmitted instantaneously, we didn't know about tragedies happening in far flung parts of the world. Not knowing spared us the pain of having to respond to events beyond our immediate surroundings.

Today, geographic distance is no buffer against mourning deaths on another continent, or feeling the suffering of those whose names we will never know.

In our desire to turn off the news and retreat into our private worlds, we may go too far and not pay attention precisely when we should. But if we are upset by everything bad that happens each day, we may turn numb, and not feel a human response when it's most needed.

Our challenge is to remain informed, to learn how to become a discriminating consumer of the news, without experiencing emotional exhaustion.

To change the underlying conditions that create depressing stories we have to maintain the optimism and the energy to be able to wake up in the morning and say: I'm going to do something about this.

A brief vacation from the news may enable us to come back revitalized, ready to charge ahead.

But blacking out the news entirely, because it's too depressing, too hopeless, only gives those who anger us by their actions or inactions - more unimpeded power to carry on as usual.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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