News Addiction : Ignatius Knew


Just as all roads used to lead to Rome, it now seems that all conversations eventually lead to Trump. Or Trudeau. Or Ford. And while up until recently most people got their news in two daily doses, morning and evening, in the Twitterverse it’s like being on a 24/7 cortisol drip which stimulates exasperation, fury, anxiety and/or total anomie.

I read that the World Health Organization has just classified video games addiction as a pathology. I think for those over 40, news addiction is a more debilitating condition.

Since I myself read three daily newspapers and regularly check news sites, I am not a disinterested observer of this phenomenon. So, since there is a Wiki for everything, I checked out the Wiki recommended process for treating news addiction.

Dr. Wiki recommends three steps.

First, recognize your problem and seek the help of a family member or a friend to point out to you when you are obsessing or hyperventilating over the latest presidential tweet. A spouse would be ideal…in fact, your spouse might already be “helping” you here….except that now you are seeking the help!

Second, set aside very limited periods when you will pay attention to news.

Third, establish a “cuss jar” in which you will put, say $5, every time you fall off the wagon concerning the above two treatments—and periodically donate the money to a worthy cause….say the Canadian Jesuits.

So, every time you peek at Twitter or every time you boil over with rage at the antics of Messrs Trump, Trudeau and/or Ford, you lose money but a Jesuit is educated or someone gets some ministering.

As I read Dr. Wiki’s sane advice, I was struck how, prior to the Information Age, prior to radio, prior to the telephone and telegraph, prior to the Pony Express, indeed, prior to newspapers, in fact in a time when “news” principally took the form of gossip (and, perhaps we have not moved so far from this era as we might smugly believe that we have done), St. Ignatius Loyola scooped Dr. Wiki.


In his Annotation Two of The Spiritual Exercises, the Saint makes this point: “For, it is not knowing much, but realizing and relishing things interiorly, that contents and satisfies the soul.” [Fleming] How much of our addiction to the latest novelty, the latest outrage, the latest news report which confirms our own opinions is, in fact, increasing our craving for cortisol rather than truly satisfying our souls?

When the Saint discusses First Week Discernment Rules, he identifies desolation as consisting of disturbance, darkness of soul, different agitations and lack of hope. Surely these are, for most of us, the fruits of over-attention to hourly new.

In Second Week Discernment Rules, he says that the Holy Spirit enters our souls quietly and gently like water dripping onto a sponge while the evil Spirit causes clamour, upset and confusion like water smashing onto a stone. And…which of these is more like the effect of  attending to the news?

In those First Week rules, the Saint talks about how to deal with the evil Spirit’s temptations. One of the ways our Enemy acts [326] is to seduce us secretly. St. Ignatius recommends that we manifest this secret seduction to a trusted person so that once the seduction is manifested, the seducer has no more power.

This sounds a lot like Dr. Wiki’s recommendation to tell a trusted person about our news addiction.

Finally, St. Ignatius has his own version of the “cuss jar”:  the Daily Examen. The Examen has five key steps. These are

(1) Become aware of God’s presence in your life this day.

(2) Review the events of your day with gratitude.

(3) Pay attention to the emotional highs and lows as signs of the influence of the Holy Spirit or of the Evil Spirit.

(4) Choose a feature of the day which celebrates growth or which calls you to further growth and contemplate this.

(5) Make resolutions about how you will live tomorrow.  So, if we put our prayers and understandings into our “News Cuss Jar” we make a sort of reparation…although we could also give $5 to a worthy charity!

In short, with news addiction, less is definitely more. Let’s use our awareness to promote true personal and communal growth rather than feeding our craving for cortisol.

Johnston Smith is a retired teacher and an active spiritual director in Winnipeg.

  • Philip Shano
    Posted at 07:23h, 28 July Reply

    Thanks so much for this Johnston. Well said.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 09:48h, 28 July Reply

    Thank you Johnston!

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