Last night, I was talking with my dad about problems in the Middle East and we also got on the topic of the earthquakes in Nepal. On Saturday, a 7.8 magnitude Earthquake struck near the city of Pokhara and since then the death toll has risen to over 4000 with subsequent aftershocks and avalanches. As we were in the middle of discussing this, someone walked in and said, “there was an Earthquake in Nepal?!”

I’m always shocked when people haven’t heard of what’s going on in the news, and this was no exception. Since the earthquake first hit on the weekend, it has been trending on Twitter and Facebook, and splashed across the front of newspapers and online news sources.  That person doesn’t use any of those things, so it made sense that he hadn’t heard of it.

It is generally regarded as a good thing to be aware of what is going on in the world. This incident led me to wonder why this is.

One benefit of knowing what is happening in the news is that it puts you in a position to make a difference. There are a multitude of relief funds set up for Nepal; however, one would have to know about the disaster before they would consider providing disaster relief.

Knowing what is happening in other parts of the world also helps you to gain a better appreciation for your life. Being aware of danger in other places makes you feel thankful that you are safe. This feeling of gratefulness for your own life can improve your overall happiness and satisfaction – and it can also make you more likely to donate to the relief funds.

The other thing is that for the people living through the tragedy, an important part of their healing is sharing their story. They are grieving the loss of their families, friends, neighborhoods and monuments; they deserve to have the world listen to them, and offer its sympathies. Out of a disaster like this one are stories that need to be told; so people need to listen.

But is listening really enough? I am compelled to say that it is. Yes, simply reading a news article about the earthquakes in Nepal doesn’t directly help the people suffering there. It doesn’t give money towards aid, and it doesn’t comfort a grieving family. What it does do, though, is let the people in Nepal know that there are people across the world who care about them, and their story; and in times of suffering this is a small light, but a light nonetheless (especially when sympathy is often shared through various forms of social media).

There is of course, as there always is, another side to this. I have read many posts by bloggers who have taken a break from reading the news because it adds too much stress to their lives. There is not only the stress caused by the actual content of the news – natural disasters, senseless deaths, injustices and wars – but also the stress of keeping up with everything that is happening.

Social media has made this easy – a quick glance at the ‘Trending’ list on Twitter can usually give a pretty good snapshot of what people are talking about and what is happening in the world. However, staying updated through countless new articles and videos takes its toll; and it can feel necessary at times, because you can feel as though it is your duty to “listen” to the story of the event.

Sometimes, looking at the news can be downright depressing. It’s a trap which, unfortunately, is easy to fall into: looking at all of the horrible things happening in the world, and thinking that all hope for humanity is lost and there’s no point in trying to save it. When you don’t look at what is happening around the world, you can live in your own happy reality. This is a common reason why many people have decided it is not a good thing to be aware of what is happening in the news.

The counter argument to this is that if someone is living in their own bubble of their personal happy reality, they are being blatantly naive because bad things are happening. If everyone ignores the news to avoid the bad things that are happening, then nothing will be done about those things. An issue has to be acknowledged before it can be solved, or made better.

The question I strived to answer in this post was: is it a good thing to be aware of what is happening in the world?

I have come to the conclusion that it is different for every person. For me personally, it is a good thing. As an aspiring journalist and lover of anything with a story attached, staying updated on the news is necessary. I do sometimes feel stressed by the horrid things happening; but I try to translate those emotions into my writing (hence this post).

For other people, staying updated on the news is not a good thing. For them it is a source of distress, and it can create a “false sense of disaster”, like when people were freaking out about Ebola and they had never travelled to any of the affected regions.

The bottom line is that bad things happen whether we read news articles about them or not. If we read the articles about the bad things, though, we then at least have the opportunity to try to make a difference.