The Weight Of The World

AtlasParis. Ankara. Istanbul. Brussels.

On some days this beautiful planet is so full of hatred and hardship that I feel guilty writing about such trivial things as “work.”

It sure is fun to blog about freelancing, marketing, and microphone technique, but I have to ask: “To what avail?”

Does it lead to a deeper understanding of the human psyche?

Does it tell us why young, radicalized men stuff their luggage with glass and nails, before they blow themselves and innocent others to bits and pieces?

Does it explain why so many people still believe that violence is the only way forward to further a cause?

As a blogger, shouldn’t I be writing about those issues, instead of talking about home studios, auditions, and online casting companies? 

Whenever I ask myself these questions, I have to remind myself of where I came from.

Before leaving the Netherlands, I worked as one of those stone-faced newscasters informing the world of yet another tragedy. On air, I asked countless experts about the roots of evil, and I grilled politicians about their ideas on how to fix a broken world.

Day after day I reported on endless suffering and strife, and I was part of the sensationalist “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” gang, that determines what is newsworthy and what isn’t. On sunnier days I would be searching for that snippet of positive news we could end our program with, to remind the listeners that not all people are perverts, rapists, or suicidal religious radicals. 

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the excitement and the adrenaline of the newsroom. It gave me a steady income, a certain status, and a sense of purpose. A democracy can only function when people are able to make smart decisions based on hard facts, and I was in the business of providing those facts. My radio station also gave me a unique opportunity to hold the feet of the famous to the fire.

Yet, one day, it all fell apart when I noticed myself caring less and less about the horror stories I was covering. In the beginning I would blame my lack of response on the need to “stay professional,” meaning detached from the raw emotions that are part and parcel of every human tragedy. I was supposed to stay as neutral as our network professed to be, and not get emotionally involved. But it came at a price. 

I gradually developed a tendency to disassociate myself from all kinds of feelings. Positive and negative. That invisible screen I was using to shield myself from sadness in the newsroom, had become like a second skin. It protected me, and it numbed me at the same time.

Over time, I came to a frightening realization:

I had lost one of the very few things that separates humans from animals: the ability to empathize.

I’d seen this happen to veteran journalists who were trying to cope with the crazy demands of their job. Some became chain smokers, heavy drinkers, and lifelong cynics. Others filed for divorce. It was not a road I wanted to travel.

One day, after covering yet another disaster, I just knew I had reached my limit. Years of reporting had done nothing to change the world. If anything, the world had gotten worse. All I wanted was to get out of broadcasting, and do something useful with my life. Something exhilarating. Something inspiring. Something uplifting.

When I finally left the poisonous bubble that was the newsroom, it took me a while to adjust to a new reality. A reality that wasn’t nearly as violent as I had thought it would be. Slowly but surely I discovered a world filled with kindness and good people. It was as if someone had opened the dark blinds that had been filtering the light from the windows for such a long time.

I came to realize that the news I had covered for all those years focused on the exceptions; on the grotesque and the extraordinary. The thousands of planes that land safely every day will never be on CNN. It’s the plane that crashes that ends up making headlines. And if you add all those headlines up, it’s easy to get the impression that this world is rotten to the core. But it’s a deliberate distortion of reality, contrived to kick up the ratings. 

Reality is so much better and less sensational than the networks want you to believe. For most of us it is reassuringly unspectacular and ordinary. It revolves around friends, family…. and work. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to blog about work, even when evil forces are trying to fill this world with fear.

The question remains: how do we respond to those who want to scare us by causing panic, pain, and suffering?

How do we deal with the fact that -to quote Harold Kushner- bad stuff happens to good people?

All of us have to come to terms with this in our own time and in our own way. Life and death are mysterious teachers.

Let me leave you with what I think.

The only way we can learn to live with darkness, is to focus on the light, and to become a reflection of that light.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us were born with the ability to shine. 

Once we start taking that to heart, perhaps we can begin making this place a better world.

In Paris. In Ankara. In Istanbul. In Brussels.


Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal

21 Responses to The Weight Of The World

  1. Deidre Ann Johnson

    As always a well-written and timely blog piece. The take away is this–We must all strive to become the light we want to see in the world.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Absolutely, Deirdre. That’s one of the reasons I believe we’re here.


  2. Susan Hadash

    This one hit close to home (literally and figuratively). Only I had the opposite problem, that I was unable to develop that shield. I recently quit a news job (I translated, edited and narrated) due to the severe stress of both the quick translating and the news itself. I trace it back to one evening when I came into work shaking after having had to get off a bus and lie on the ground while watching Iron Dome deflect an incoming rocket attack overhead. Then I covered the incident on that night’s news, narrating in as neutral a voice as I could muster. I stuck it out for a couple of years after that, fearing the loss of income, but at some point noticed that I had anxiety attacks approaching every shift. My mind and body could no longer take the stress. Since I quit I have been much more relaxed and positive, despite continuing threats and violence in my Middle Eastern “neighborhood.” I look for those corners of peace and coexistence that do exist. And I go entire days without watching the TV news.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    And now you’re using your voice singing Puccini’s Messa di Gloria!

    Thanks for putting things into perspective, by the way. As a newscaster, I was able to do my reporting from a safe and sheltered location. I was an observer. You were (and are) in the thick of it. I’ve been to Israel three times, so I have some idea of what life is like. However, I could always return to my home base, while suicide attacks continued in Israel.


    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Susan, I’ve read many wonderful, intelligent posts here on Paul’s blogsite, but yours has to be the most poignant I’ve ever seen. It seems like every time I think I’ve had it tough, someone comes along to remind me to count my blessings. Thank you for this touching reply!


  3. Kent Ingram

    Paul, I’m reminded of a voice-over project I did about 25 to 27 years ago. My role was as an interviewer to a lady who authored a book and subsequent self-help series titled, “What I Think is Why it is”. The idea behind it was whatever mindset we have, negative or positive, that’s what we see the most of in the world. It takes a bit of work to find the right balance! Thanks, this one sure struck a chord.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    My favorite saying is: “The world we see is a mirror of who we are.”


  4. Debbie Grattan

    Great blog, Paul. Having not come from news or broadcasting, it’s interesting, to say the least, to hear from this perspective. And as much as our current world relies on “news broadcasting” – it’s hard for ALL of us to not become cynical with the constant barrage of BAD news. The ability and desire to focus on what’s good, and what brings joy is often not as easy as it might seem. You’ve offered a good reminder. Thanks for your writing. Such a gift.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I have to remind myself time and again that what we choose to focus on, that’s where we are putting our energy. It’s like a diet. If we eat unhealthy foods, that’s what we become. I’m off to the Farmers’ Market to get some locally produced organic veggies!


  5. Taylor Stonely

    Thanks for your perspective, Paul! I think that the world appears to be crazier than in the past, but maybe it is because access to news and information is so much easier to get nowdays. We think it is getting worse, when in reality, maybe people in society have always been this horrible to each other.

    And I agree that we need more light shown on us so that we can reflect the goodness that really does exist. We need to find the light and gravitate towards it, and shun the darkness.

    Great column, and thanks for putting everything into perspective!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hey Taylor, I agree with you that mass media have no boundaries, and we truly live in the information age. Unfortunately, the info we consume is highly filtered, and it focuses on highlighting exceptions. People have tried to publish papers with only good news, but there wasn’t enough interest. So, it’s really up to us to light candles in the darkness, and to make sure that evil does not get the upper hand.


  6. Don Reece

    “All I wanted was to … do something useful with my life. Something exhilarating. Something inspiring. Something uplifting.”
    Mission accomplished, Paul. Thank you for your weekly missives. You always call us forward to our higher selves.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Can my higher self give a virtual High Five to your higher self, Don?


  7. Lynden Blossom

    Thank You for sharing your Heart. It certainly is a different world than when we grew up and different than I’d expected it to be at this time in my life… I’m thankful to have discovered this VO world and appreciate all of those who share their expertise.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It goes to show that change in the world doesn’t necessarily lead to progress. I believe that all of us are here on earth with a mission to make things better. For ourselves, and for future generations.


  8. Debby Barnes

    Ever so deep and meaningful, Paul. And I couldn’t help but think of Edith Wharton’s quote: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Thank you for being such a needed light.”


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That is a very poignant and relevant quote, Debby. It is delightful! Thanks for sharing!


  9. Richard Rieman

    Paul – Truly excellent points and writing, too. My 35 years in radio news at NBC, ABC and RKO – some of them covering President Reagan as a correspondent, makes your words that much more relatable. I was desensitized to the killings and other tragedies I witnessed as a reporter, and I’m sure it affected my marriage. Tough to come home from gruesome crime scenes or accidents with a smile when asked “How was your day?”

    Now, I get in touch with those feeling narrating audiobooks, including many tales of personal heroism. Thank you so much for your insight.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re very welcome, Richard. I can certainly relate to your “homecoming” experience. Narrating audiobooks from a home studio makes married life a lot easier!


  10. Mike Reagan

    Now I see where your great writing style comes from, your past work life. Paul I agree with this post 100%. Having worked in the media for over two decades, I have seen young new reporters start with the “we can make a difference” attitude, to overwhelmed by their cynicism and changing careers.

    It takes effort to see the light and share the light. We all need to make the effort.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I think people in the media still can make a difference, but it’s not easy to not become cynical.


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