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The Media: Friend or Foe?

I recently attended the National Children's Alliance Leadership Conference in Washington, DC. As a Crime Victim Advocate, I am expected to have significant training about the neurobiology of sexual assault trauma. In laypersons terms; when an individual has experienced a traumatic event, certain pathways of the brain are "mapped" for a very specific type of response. Our autonomic physiology controls our response to our perceived trauma. We now know that this response has a huge impact on our lives and our wellbeing. These trainings help us to effectively communicate with and provide service to others.

We are also encouraged as advocates to take time for self-care in order to avoid vicarious traumatization, also known as secondary trauma. This means that people in helping professionals are vulnerable to the cumulative experiences of other people’s trauma. So, I took a little trip to the Newseum located just down the road, and in sight of, our nation's capitol.

I was totally blown away by this experience. This beautiful and unique building combines decades of human experience in the world and delivers it in uncountable ways, through every sort of media that has existed in all of time. You can listen to the voices of many familiar people as they narrate our memories of tragedy and triumph. The theme you must keep in mind throughout your journey inside this six-story structure is “liberty and freedom.”

There were many saddening events witnessed through the media in my lifetime; assassinations, wartime photos, acts of terrorism. These media memories began from my earliest days. Yet, I cherish the ones that prompted my human spirit to soar; the moonwalk, the fall of the Berlin Wall, acts of rescue, bravery and kindness.

We participate in life by living within an experience and by witnessing the experiences of others. Our emotions are woven into the memories of our events of living. Media can have a profound effect on how experiences are delivered to us. Oftentimes, we react with emotion upon viewing a disturbing event on TV or after reading a stirring article in the news. We are programmed to do so because of our experiences. Therefore, there is no right or wrong reaction; there is only "our" reaction, uniquely our own.

When I flagged down a cab to return to my hotel, the cab driver asked me,
“So, how do you feel about the media now?” This is how I responded:
“It is our job to take in information and process it. Reaction needs to be pushed into second place. Without process, information that leads directly to emotional reaction can be inflammatory. Therefore, it is also our task to carefully select the flame we want to use as the light that guides us.”

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