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Lighting the Candle: Why the World Needs Good News in Order to Understand the Bad

12/05/2014 18:41 BST | Updated 12/07/2014 10:59 BST

I can't say I was shocked by the brevity of the BBC report. Years spent consuming and working in a media biased towards the West, a straightforward narrative and celebrities have acclimatized me to its 'standards', and by these the fact that hundreds had been killed in Afghanistan was never going to be deemed news. Yet it was news. These people - mothers, fathers, grandparents, kids - were not victims of terrorism or poverty, but one of the unsuspecting hundreds at home in the lower end of the Aab Barik village when the mountain above disintegrated, sending several tonnes of mud and dirt onto the houses below it. Within minutes they'd disappeared utterly, and when those nearby rushed to search and rescue, they themselves were engulfed by a second landslide 20 minutes later - bigger and more deadly than before.

It was the worst natural disaster there in two decades. That, in a country where natural and human disasters seem the norm, is saying something - yet in a way that's part of the problem: so accustomed are we today to the view of Afghans as victims, it's becoming difficult to hear stories like that of Aab Barik and still be moved. The reasons for this are manifold. In the first place, the coverage itself is outrageously small - two minutes at most on the television and even less in the radio - and with such minimal follow up on how survivors are coping ,what is being done in the way of aid and so on, it soon fades from consciousness: if it was there in the first place. It goes without saying that coverage of the Washington mudslide in March this year far exceeded that of the Afghanistan mudslide some weeks ago.

But this isn't just about column inches and air time. Frustration with the media's narcissistic hierarchies is well documented, and shows little sign of change - but it is at least easier, these days, to aggregate your news from more localized sources as well as from the main stream. More pernicious to my mind is the industry's dogged determination to run only those stories which are negative, tragic or violent in content, at the exclusion of anything that could be deemed good news.

In vain I searched for an example. Good News is a section on the Guardian, but it's sponsored by Tropicana, which is telling. Stories are overwhelmingly food and celebrity orientated, accompanied by several fashion round ups and a photographic series of underwater dogs. Other so-called Good News sites are no better. The maxim 'no news is good news' might explain the absence of 'hard' news stories from these sites, but I suspect it's just laziness. Good news takes some digging around - even roving reporting, something budgets these days rarely stretch to. Yet just imagine an article from a Less Economically Developed Country recalling a piece of good news.

Imagine the weight of it. Numbed by relentlessly depressing updates on Syria, we start to zone out of what feels like a monotonous tragedy. Now read this account of a Syrian refugee, scraping a life together in an unofficial refugee camp, where he's built a water feature on his homemade 'porch', and invites people to dinner in spite of financial hardship and personal pain. Now smile at this story: an ice cream parlour, which sends a lorry each week from Damascus (where the ice cream, a particular type unique to the owner, is made) to the refugees in Jordan, so they have a taste of their homeland. The driver travels overnight has a few days in Jordan, then returns with his lorry full of fruit, vegetables or anything else they need in Syria. Now return to the latest news from there. See how much more powerful it is? How much more the death, destruction and violence now mean?

The same goes for Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Ukraine or indeed any other country doomed to be less fortunate - less western - than our own. Humankind works best when it feels empathy and acts accordingly - yet in order for us to have empathy with others, we must at first see in them something of ourselves.

Stories like A Normal (Refugee) Life are the lenses that make this view possible. If we knew, to create an entirely fictional example, of a talented musician in Aab Barik who had won the chance to further his skills abroad, and then returned to train disadvantaged children, then the loss of his village would be - not more tragic, but more personal as we realized the talent and joy that now lay buried beneath the mud that fateful Friday. If Aab Barik had recorded a Because I'm Happy video for World Happiness Day, would we have felt more strongly about its loss? No place is beyond happiness, heroism and hope, but it is only through learning that that we can feel the weight of the opposite story. Only by lighting a single candle can the darkness beyond it be defined, and defied.