Why I’m Not Watching by Katey Zeh

Katey HeadshotI just can’t. The Planned Parenthood sting operation videos. The GOP debates earlier in the month. I can’t bring myself to watch them. I used to jump without hesitation into the thick of the most vitriolic political exchanges and stand my self-righteous ground with the best of them, but I just can’t anymore.

I can’t. And I won’t. I do recognize that when I choose to tune out the noise of public debate, I am opting out of the conversation, at least in part. I shouldn’t be commenting directly on events of which I am not aware and informed. Nor should anyone else for that matter. I do end up relying on a community of commentators to fill in what I’ve missed by not watching.

This is in part an act of personal self-preservation, but it also an attempt to redirect my energy toward a more compassionate response. I know how riled up I get when I consume inflammatory media, even the kind that supports my point of view. More often than not it leads me to bring something to the public conversation that is not from my highest sense of self. The adrenaline of “fight-or-flight” kicks in, and I start acting from a place of fear. I dehumanize people who don’t agree with me by lashing out in unkind, below-the-belt ways.

In other words, I am part of the problem. I’m prone to the defensiveness that leads to the dismantling of civility we all encounter online and beyond.

For nearly ten years I’ve been working with faith communities and religious leaders on why it is so important for us to care about reproductive health. When I first began researching disparities in maternal and child health outcomes among communities of color and those living in poverty, I was outraged that more wasn’t being done in faith communities to name these injustices and advocate for the sacred worth of those living at the margins. It’s a classic story of asking the Creator, “Where are all the people to do ____?” and realizing the answer is, “That would be you, my child.” 

As I would later learn, though, the call to be an advocate isn’t just about the content. The call is equally about the approach. When I get on my egocentric high-horse about my views, as theologically grounded as I believe them to be, or when I get so caught up in drawing lines in the sand, I do nothing to bring about a more just, compassionate world for the people I’m called to love. In order for me to embody the spirit of understanding in my work, I have to remove myself from situations that play into my argumentative, competitive nature.

Why I'm NOT WatchingI get that people can make a theological case for taking a much different approach from what I am advocating here, and argue that by not watching myself, I am simply dodging instances when my deeply held beliefs would be challenged. Some might accuse of me of acting cowardly.

The truth is that I have grown weary of asserting my call to the work of reproductive justice as morally justifiable to those who oppose me. I’ve spent more time and energy getting caught up in this distraction than I’d like to admit, but I’m slowly learning to let go of this need to be understood by everyone. In so doing I’m also able to release my certainty that I’m right and regain my focus on the call to love.

Taking this stance of disengagement will probably bother folks on all sides of the issues about which I care deeply. Maybe it will be seen as a sign of weakness, or that I’m losing my conviction. But my hope is that by distancing myself from debate, I will open up space within myself for more thoughtful conversations with those who desire to create a more just, compassionate world, even if we disagree about how to accomplish that. I dare to dream that it’s possible.


Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and educator who inspires intentional communities to create a more just, compassionate world through building connection, sacred truth telling, and striving for the common good. In 2010 Zeh launched the first and only denominationally-sponsored advocacy campaign focused on improving global reproductive health for The United Methodist Church. She has written extensively about global maternal health, family planning, and women’s sacred worth for outlets including the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, Mothering Matters, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service.  Find her on Twitter at @ktzeh or on her website www.kateyzeh.com.

Categories: In the News, Media, Politics, Reproductive Justice

Tags: , , ,

17 replies

  1. Great post. It is good counsel (good Buddhist counsel in fact) not to engage others from the place of hot anger. It is also important to recognize that no single individual can do everything that needs to be done. It might make more sense, for example, not to engage with some people who have shown they are unlikely to listen, and to save energy for discussions or other actions that are likely to make more of a difference. This could be said to be the good Buddhist counsel of giving up egotism, or in Christian terms, of recognizing that no one of us is all-powerful. We also need time to rest and refresh ourselves, for as Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “If we do not love life on its own account and through others, it is futile to seek to justify it in any way.”

    PS I am not interested in watching anything the Republicans say or do. This is not about humility. It is about not involving myself with people who do not care about the common good.


    • Thank you, Carol. I am realizing more and more that I lack the discipline of meditation/stillness/quiet. When I let the noise in, I give my energy away to fruitless efforts that only deplete me and detract from the compassion and love I desire to give. My focus is on creating space for quiet, and that begins with blocking out the distraction of debate.


  2. Thanks Katey, I thoroughly agree we can’t solve the problems with anger or debate. Forgetting the opposition, we can simply use the written word to gently keep building genuine faith and trust in what we sincerely believe in. Since Carol mentioned Buddhism (love the de Beauvoir quote), here is a delightful poem by Otagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875), that is, a Zen Buddhist nun’s teaching, as regards detachment, creativity, and peace of mind —

    A fine example
    of success to emulate,
    a lowly eggplant ripens
    and brings forth fruit
    accomplishing its goal in life.


  3. I think that it’s wisdom to not waste energy on people who can’t hear, like your GOP or our Mr Harper. They have an agenda that is so deeply self centered that it’s fenced in with cement. Avoiding the braying of jackasses – that’s just common sense.

    Sometimes it helps to ask questions rather than make statements, so that others who might be seduced might think more about the issues. And it would help if certain church leaders would forget about sex for awhile and focus more on things like respect, compassion, not being afraid and other things that would support people in navagating the strong changes our world is going through at present.


    • Thank you, Barbara. Asking thoughtful questions is as much for the asker as it is for the askee! I also appreciate the reminder of the global audience reading this blog. I hope to be more mindful of that in future writing.


  4. Excellent post. Brava! I quit watching most of “that stuff” on TV two or three years ago and quit going to marches and demonstrations nearly a decade ago. I get too emotional. All that mega-negative energy (even when it’s for a good, progressive cause) just isn’t good for me. You’re doing the right thing, IMO, by taking care of yourself. Ask questions. Teach quietly.


    • Thank you, Barbara. I’m inspired by your decision and commitment to shut out the noise. Sometimes I question my motives for pulling back. Am I somehow more complicit in the status quo by backing out? But I do believe there are other ways to create change, like as you said so wisely: “Ask questions. Teach quietly.”


      • Yes, shutting out the noise is important to gather in who you are. I stopped watching and reading news eleven years ago when I moved to the bush in Limpopo, South Africa. This does not mean one is complicit in the status quo, but it restores you to “the power of one” and allows you to interact with others one on one… one person’s enlightenment enlightens another and so on, like one candle lighting another candle… Blessings.


  5. Dear Katey,

    I don’t believe you are “backing out;” on the contrary, you are very much engaged and reflecting on the best ways to be for yourself and others. I too don’t watch nor listen to the constant barrage of media. Life is too short for negative bombardment. I choose positive actions, have been for years and will continue to be a donor to Planned Parenthood. I listen, ask questions, and because I am now white haired and have a sweet smile can get through the “security checks” of many who think differently with my intellectual and emotional presence. Thank you for your post!


  6. Reblogged this on Katey Zeh and commented:

    I’m grateful to Feminism and Religion for allowing me to guest post today on the decision not to watch–and what I’ve gained by doing so.


  7. I really needed to hear your words . I’ve become too engrossed in the media-bombardment of political views. I have been thinking of turning it all off, as it is too upsetting and drains my energies where they need to be directed. Thank you again.


  8. On August 22nd pro-life groups are planning to hold a simultaneous protest of Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide. In my opinion we must respond, but we get to choose how.

    There’s a lot to be angry about, but I love this post. Anger can fester if it doesn’t flow but is constantly gripped and obsessed over. That said, we are still called to act.

    I suggest either counter-protesting in peaceful silence in support of PP outside your local clinic, writing compassionately about why you support reproductive rights on blogs and other social media, or choosing the 22nd to make a donation to Planned Parenthood. Transform anger into constructive action.


    • Thank you. I agree–I want to respond, but I want the response to come from my highest self. Just a few days ago a complete stranger asked me about the videos, and although we disagreed, we were able to have a very respectful dialogue because I wasn’t so quick to defend my point of view. At the same time ensuring all women have access to quality reproductive health services is critical, and I must be part of defending that. Thank you again.


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