As 2010 draws to a close, I decided to reflect on last year’s New Years Resolution. I’m not big on New Years Resolutions, and in fact last year- 2009- was the first time I ever made one. I usually prefer to set my spiritual goals at Rosh Hashanah and use that time for reflection. Last year, however, the timing was right, and so I decided to make a New Years Resolution: to overcome my addiction to television. I made this decision not only for religious reasons, but for psychological ones as well. This is not a preachy post, it is not post venting about the evils of TV, rather it is thoughts about my own experience, which perhaps will encourage someone else struggling with the same issue. But before I get to the ending of the story, let me start at the beginning.
Let me start off my story by saying that December 31, 2009, was not my first attempt at giving up watching TV. As a child, I grew up with a TV in my house, but my family did not watch TV very much. Television was an occasional pastime for amusement, not something to be glued to for hours and hours a night. As I got older I watched more TV, and at some point in my early teens I became obsessed with a certain TV show. I would rush home from school to watch episodes and when I couldn’t make it, I would tape it so I could watch it later and not miss anything. Lots of people do this, but at some point I realized it wasn’t good for me to be so obsessed, and I slowly tried to stop. I remember one day, when it was time for that show to be on, and I forced myself to go to another room and not turn on the TV. The entire hour that the show was on was a struggle, as I had the constant urge to go watch even whatever was left. I didn’t just wake up that day and stop, I watched the show again after that, but slowly I weaned myself away from it until I was so firm in my resolve that it would be a struggle to get myself to watch the show. I grew to the point that I was so determined to stay far away from it.
Though I was victorious with that one show, I still watched other shows and movies all the time. Then came high school where I had teachers that spoke out against the evils of TV, and at some point in there I think I successfully gave TV up for a short amount of time, but then went back to it later. The longest I went without watching TV/movies was my year in Israel, and to be honest, I didn’t even miss it, not even a tiny bit. My time was spent doing other things and I never had the urge to watch TV. After I returned from Israel, I was resolved to keep this habit of staying away from TV, but that did not last very long. Although I was in college and away from my house with a TV, there was always my laptop and my friends’ laptops to watch movies, and it became a great way to procrastinate or relax, but it was also a social thing. It also always starts with one movie. “Oh, it won’t be so bad just to watch this one harmless film,” I would think to myself. But it is the beginning of a spiral. Numerous times I tried to limit my amount of TV-watching, knowing that it wasn’t realistic to try to give it up completely because that wouldn’t work. Those attempts were short-lived.
I would like to share my reasons for trying to give up TV. You see, I do not believe that TV is completely evil and that it is awful to watch any TV. In fact, that was a big part of my struggle. In many ways it is easier to fight something that is clearly wrong than it is to fight something that is only sort of bad. I kept justifying my television watching by telling myself that I wasn’t really watching anything so bad, which is pretty true, since most things were not inappropriate or obviously over the line. Watching relatively clean TV is not against Halacha, and since it is not Assur, that allowed me to rationalize that it was not really wrong, and that made it harder for me to stay away from. Finally, when I was able to verbalize my personal reasons that TV was having a negative influence on me and my life, I was able to stop. There are two main reasons, and as I mentioned before, one is religious and one is psychological.
The first reason is the religious reason, and my perspective on this is not the one that I have often heard, so let me explain it as follows. There is right and there is wrong. Pretty basic, not a novel concept that is difficult to understand. How do you know what is right and wrong? “That’s easy,” you might say, “I just know.” But the bottom line is that right and wrong, good and bad, are all determined by G-d and explained in the Torah. In society, especially in American culture, my experience is that morals are subjective and the entire realm of right and wrong is one big area of utter chaos and confusion. Everything is viewed subjectively and each person is left to decide for themselves, which is a task equivalent to trying not to fall down when someone much stronger than you pushes you with a heavy force and crushes you to the ground. If you’re left to fend for yourself to figure out what is morally correct and incorrect, your Yetzer HaRah will crush you. Your desires will take over your intellect. TV represents American culture. That is why it is very tricky.
I didn’t even realize it, but TV can mess up your moral compass. All of the sudden things that should seem outrageous to you seem perfectly fine. You watch people being murdered and violence, even in clean movies. You watch characters speak Lashon Harah, treat other characters in verbally abusive ways, act sexually promiscuous, and commit adultery. And the crazy part is that you’re rooting for these characters, the good guys, to do these wrong actions. And did you notice that most TV characters fail to ever show self control? They want something or someone and they go for it. They seek pleasure and don’t worry about consequences. Sure, there are some very good movies out there, movies that teach good lessons, movies that are inspiring. I have seen plenty of those. But those are not the majority, and it is difficult to know beforehand that the entire movie will be OK.
Entering the world of movies/TV is entering a world without Hashem. Often G-d’s existence is lacking in these worlds of fiction. Although I don’t believe watching TV is objectively wrong, I believe it is spiritually dangerous. Like all risky things, some people handle them better than others. I didn’t like the direction that I was going in with this influencing me. The bottom line of my religious reason comes down to the fact that movies were taking me farther away from Hashem and Torah. Since one of my goals is to be close to Hashem, I realized that watching movies and TV was not going to work for me.
The second reason, which for me was an equally compelling reason to stop, is the psychological one, and that is that I was using TV as an escape. I used to TV not just to relax, which isn’t such a bad thing, but rather I started thinking thoughts such as, “Wow, I had a terrible day. I need to watch a movie now.” I felt like if I watched TV then it would make everything all better. While it is great to be mindless for a little while and be swept into another world where you don’t have to think about real life, it makes returning to reality that much more difficult. While I was actually watching TV I enjoyed it, but afterwards I returned to feeling sad about my bad day. I realized I should live life and not just watch it, that I should appreciate my own life instead of living vicariously through others, and that I had to stop trying to escape my life, but rather deal with it and find the joy in it. There is a thin line between, “I am going to relax,” and “I want to escape my life for a bit,” and I was on the wrong side of the line.
For those two reasons, I decided to stop watching TV, but I had tried so many times before and was not successful, so I didn’t know how to go about doing it, until I had a break through. Most of the time the way to cure a drug addict or an alcoholic is not to tell them to reduce the amount of drugs/alcohol they are taking bit by bit. It is too hard to stop that way because once they have a little they want to have more. The way to stop is to just quit cold turkey. I decided to quit cold turkey. I would have never thought to do this because it wouldn’t be realistic. That goal is just too big; there is no way I could do that! My moment of break through was that perhaps it sounded too big, but I had to take the leap. The worst thing that could happen is that I would fail, but I had to at least try. So I jumped into my plan of starting January 1, 2010 to never watch TV/movies again. The one exception I made for myself is that I wouldn’t give up YouTube videos, because my friends post videos on Facebook all the time, and people email me cute videos all the time, and I knew that would be impossible. Also, I don’t think short 5 minute videos are equivalent to movies/television. The problem is that there are plenty of movie/TV clips on YouTube.
I am proud to say that I have pretty much kept my New Years resolution from last year. I have not watched a single movie since the year 2009, and I have not watched a single TV show, except for once, when I was in the same room as a friend who was watching a half-hour comedy show, which was loud and I was unsuccessful in my attempt to tune out. I also had a few partial slip-ups- times when I watched videos on YouTube for longer than I feel really fits into this resolution. In any case, everyone slips up. Putting those few slip-ups aside, overall I consider my resolution a success.
Interestingly, giving up TV was a lot easier than I would have imagined. It was not hard at all. In fact, all of the partial slip-ups were recently, in the past few months. The first few months, despite what I would have guessed, were actually the easiest. I knew the hardest part was going to be when friends wanted to watch movies with me. One thing I didn’t mention yet is that I only told two people about this decision. It was really important to me that no one know about it since I wanted to be sure that my intentions were pure and I wasn’t just putting on a show. Plus, it was a private decision, (which is of course why I’m writing all about it on my blog! :) - no, but seriously) and it wasn’t something I wanted to share with the world (or at least with people who know me). Which just goes to show you that Hashem helps you out in whatever direction you plan to go, because somehow this year I managed to get out of the few times my friends have asked me if I wanted to watch a movie with them by saying that I was busy. I don’t know how that plan managed to work for a whole year, but clearly Hashem was helping me out. The part of this decision which I thought would be hardest was not difficult at all in the end.
The impact that this decision has made on my life has been significant, but not enormous. While a nice ending to this story would be to say that it had a huge impact, the truth is that the effect was barely detectable. However, I do believe that this change has made me a happier person and the feeling that I accomplished something that I never dreamed I would ever be able to accomplish is a truly great feeling. I like my life better without TV, and I like myself better without it. I recognize that this is not for everyone, but for me, it was the right choice. I could probably write a lot more about this, but I will end by saying that I am glad I made the resolution, and that I took on something so big, and even more pleased with myself that I stuck to it.