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Managing People and Information in a Heavy World

a man sitting at his computer with his hands on his temples. Several hands holding other devices/notes out to him. It's a heavy world
Our bodies and our brains have limits. You were never designed to carry the weight of the world.

Let me take you back to an era of yesteryear. Do you remember The Before Times?

What — you’re not familiar with The Before Times?

Let me refresh your memory.

The year is 2015. “Hamilton” just hit Broadway. “Uptown Funk” is on the radio. The Star Wars franchise springs back to life with “The Force Awakens.” And possibly most notably of all: The fiercest social media debate is all about “the dress.”

You remember the dress.

Was it blue and black or white and gold? The world may never know.

Of course, there were a lot of hard things going on too. I don’t mean to sugarcoat history, but I think you’d agree that the world was different in The Before Times. Life felt…lighter. Easier. Less dumpster-fire-y. We weren’t yet a “powder keg about to explode.” (Remember, we were quoting “Hamilton” in 2015.)

The events that brought us into The Current Times were hard. All elections bring tension, but 2016 was different. Race issues have been prevalent throughout American history, but the riots and violence of 2020 were big and important. Conspiracy theories used to be fringe and kind of wink-and-smirk-y.

Not anymore.

COVID and politics and war and inflation and global instability hit hard and fast. And our lives will never be the same. The world is different now, and I think we may need to make some changes to maintain any semblance of health.

Information in moderation

I remember in The Before Times I regularly felt a pressure to be “informed.” It was a very positive thing to be at least moderately educated about local, national and world news. We were expected to have a basic understanding of current events, politics and geography. It was deemed healthy to be able to have an educated conversation about big things happening. Bonus points if you watched multiple news networks to get a balanced perspective.

I get it. That is a good goal. There’s a reason why we study history in school. We need to learn from our past so we don’t repeat mistakes. We need to be informed citizens. Voting is a privilege, and we need to hold those in power accountable for their actions. We should stand up to injustice and care about our neighbors facing hardship around the world.

As noble as those things are, I wonder if we’ve turned a corner that isn’t so noble.

Doing the math on Dunbar’s number

Recently I came across an interesting idea known as “Dunbar’s number.” Robin Dunbar is an English professor, researcher and anthropologist. His research suggests that humans have the emotional and physical ability to realistically maintain about 150 social relationships. Our cap for people we can know, spend time with and have halfway meaningful conversations with is rarely more than 150.

Beyond Dunbar’s research, this concept is supported by human history. For thousands of years, people tended to live in tribes or small groups of about 100-150 people. Our ancestors needed a group that size to compile resources, physically protect each other, and operate thriving communities that were mostly made up of extended family members. This of course changed with agricultural breakthroughs, technology and urbanization, but historically speaking, those things happened approximately five minutes ago in the grand scheme of our existence as a species.

150 people.

How many people do you know? How many Instagram followers do you have?

My high school had nearly 2,000 students. My church has nearly 1,000. There might be 1,000 people walking around your local Walmart right now.

Just a few generations ago, our great-grandparents had no idea what was happening in Ukraine or Israel or China. And if they did, the “news” was certainly outdated by the time it reached their homes. They probably heard important updates from whomever was in the White House, but they certainly didn’t have instant access to the POTUS tweets and Insta Stories.

Too much and too heavy

Today, in The Current Times, we know a whole lot of people and we have a whole lot of information. We’re overly informed almost by default.

I feel the weight of that historical imbalance. I was not designed to know this much. These days I feel a constant war between staying informed on the world and carrying an emotional load too heavy for my measly little shoulders. I want to watch presidential Town Halls and get the latest news about Israel and Ukraine and have a decent understanding of our economic situation. It feels like the right, responsible, “grown up” thing to do.

But at what cost?

If I read too many articles or watch too many YouTube videos or spend too much time on social media, my body lets me know I’ve hit a wall. I feel anxious. I worry. I become physically aware that this burden is hard and the yoke is not light.

I’m grateful our God isn’t bound by Dunbar’s number. He knows us all. He knows the hairs on our heads and the fate of every one of the one billion sparrows currently on the planet. His shoulders are broad and strong, and they can handle it all.

And when you have Someone strong like that in your corner, you don’t have to carry it all. You weren’t built to carry it all. You can’t carry it all because the world and all its problems are heavy.

Pay attention — but then don’t

Of course, it’s still wise to pay attention to the world around you. It’s still wise to be an informed voter in election cycles, and Christ-followers should mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice around the world.

It is a delicate balance, to be sure, but let’s be honest — you probably know who you’re voting for by now. You know there’s a lot of terrible war happening right now around the world. There’s not a ton you can do about that. You can care. You can pray. You can donate funds to charitable organizations. You can vote appropriately.

Sure, pay attention to the stock market and watch the news and make sure you know where Ukraine is on a map. Then shut it all off. Spend time with your family. Enjoy a cup of coffee or a bagel or a piece of pizza. Go for a run. Watch a good movie.

The “news” is rarely good news. It’s not good for us to only think about bad news. What should we think about?

Whatever is true.

Whatever is noble.

Whatever is right.

Whatever is pure.

Whatever is lovely.

Whatever is admirable.

If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.

(Philippians 4:8)

Our bodies and our brains have limits. Remember the 150. You were never designed to carry the weight of the world. Let go of The Before Times. Think about excellent and praiseworthy things. And maybe throw on some “Hamilton” or “Uptown Funk.”

Copyright 2024 Matt Ehresman. All rights reserved. 

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About the Author

Matt Ehresman
Matt Ehresman

Matt Ehresman works as the creative media director at First MB Church in Wichita, Kan. He loves using video, images, words and sounds to help people think about things that matter. He is a graduate of Sterling College and Regent University and an expert on all things Mountain Dew and superheroes. He is the proud husband of Tillie and occasionally frustrated owner of Jarvis (their mini Aussie).


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