Does 'The Newsroom' have something to offer the sick room?

Making a connection between Sorkin's HBO show Photo: © Thinkstock Images

WASHINGTON D.C., April 16, 2013 — Aaron Sorkin is not a doctor, but maybe the acclaimed writer has a prescription that could not only benefit real life newsrooms, but users and providers of health care as well. In a word, it’s a dose of optimism.

Sorkin told USA Today that his new show on HBO is “an optimistic take on television and the news business,” a rare turnaround from the cynical news culture that is usually portrayed.

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Many journalists and publishers would welcome a positive outlook in contrast to the discontent showing up in the many news operations struggling to find a better business model.

But media organizations aren’t the only ones seeing their glass as half-empty.

Expectations are at record low levels among patients of a medical system that both doctors and patients say is broken. “News reports about medical errors and drug industry influence have increased patients’ distrust,” writes Tara Parker-Pope, writer for The New York Times‘ Well health blog.

While there are plenty of reasons given for the growing pessimism, there is an important case to be made for shifting one’s focus and fostering an optimistic worldview.

A number of studies over the years have shown a correlation between optimism and better health. Optimism alone may not change a fundamentally-flawed health care system, but it can bring meaningful improvement to personal health.

It is easy to sell optimism short if it is thought to be little more than a superficial, upbeat attitude in the face of difficult circumstances. Below the surface is what ultimately shapes our expectations for better or for worse, the very basic notions we hold of good and evil.

Whether we have been influenced philosophically, culturally or theologically, we tend to have an overall view of life and human beings as some combination of good and bad elements, but with one or the other ultimately winning out in the end.

Fostering an optimistic outlook does not mean that we simply turn a blind eye to circumstances that appear hopeless. However, it does imply that in such circumstances, there is a greater likelihood for success if we honestly believe that a solution can be found, that a corrective action can be taken, that a relationship can be improved, or that health can be restored. In other words, there is far more value in believing that good can triumph over evil.

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It is no stretch to see how placebos and nocebos mirror the effect of optimism or pessimism on health. Convincing a patient that what is actually a dummy pill will have a positive impact on his or her health strengthens the belief in a good outcome, and the body responds favorably. A nocebo (a harmless substance believed to be harmful) has the opposite effect.

Optimism may not be a prescription for all that ails the health care system or today’s media organizations. The issues are complex, systemic and for a lot of people very troubling. Our attitude toward them, however, should not be dismissive or pessimistic. We begin to feel empowered and see solutions that we might not otherwise see when our focus shifts and our eyes are opened to all that is possible.


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Russ Gerber

Russ Gerber is a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science and he manages media and government relations for the Christian Science Church headquartered in Boston. 

Russ enjoys opportunities to talk with journalists, editors, legislators, writers, producers and the public at large about the age-old capacity of spirituality to improve and restore health, explaining why and how that is happening today.

His media experience began with and grew out of a 30-year career in radio, ranging from on-air work, to programming, to managing and consulting. 

When The Christian Science Monitor expanded into radio news programming, Russ was retained as a consultant then later hired full-time to help them adapt their print content to the broadcast medium. He eventually wrote for and edited the Church's weekly religious magazine, the Christian Science Sentinel, and launched a weekly radio program for the publication, heard on over 200 radios stations worldwide and on the web. In addition to contributing to the Washington Times Communities, he is also a contributor to Psychology Today and Huffington Post.

Today Russ and his wife, Jo Ann, call Boston their home, while enjoying opportunities to travel throughout the world.

Contact Russ Gerber


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