Years ago, I was involved in a family tragedy so startling and heartbreaking that it made the front page of not only my local newspaper, but also People and The National Enquirer. I’m not going to tell you anything about it. This means that you won’t be able to Google the worst day of my life and read about it while sipping your morning coffee.

But you probably want to.

I’m guessing that at least a few of the people reading this have already plugged my name into a search engine, just to check.

I’ve never understood why people get a kick out of reading about the awful things that happen to others. All I know is that Schadenfreude is alive and well on the Internet, and that somebody out there is making a mint off our collective morbid curiosity.  I know this because of the teasers for tragic news stories that constantly turn up when I’m online.

Here are a few stories I didn’t read this month:

•Seven-year-old falls from chairlift to death

•Mom does the unthinkable to her baby

•Tragic end to search for coach’s son

•Chainsaw attack caught on film 

•Police make grisly find in storage unit

What makes a person see a link like “Her young life was snuffed out” and think “I’ve got to know more about that”?

Don’t tell me you’re just keeping up with the news. This stuff isn’t news. These are, for the most part, private tragedies. What you’re doing is indulging in voyeurism, plain and simple. It’s only human nature. I’ve felt the lure of those links myself. I might be clicking up a storm too, if I didn’t know what it actually feels like to be at the heart of one of those stories. I guess we’re hard-wired to pay attention when bad things happen to other people. But that doesn’t mean we have to.

Here some links I have clicked:

• Dog saves own life by phoning police 

•Fish get very romantic in tank

•Thirteen year old saves bus full of kids

•World’s smallest dog discovered

•Lost Japanese parakeet tells police its home address

I know—this isn’t news either. But, for a moment, these stories make the world seem a sweeter, brighter place. Thankfully, it’s also human nature to want to share the good things.

I know one woman who clicks on tragedy links so she can offer up a prayer for the people affected. I respect this. But for the rest of us, can we have a little common decency and give those links a pass? If enough people boycotted them, nobody would profit from them, and maybe they’d go away.

Will tragedy itself go away if we read only stories about teens that save lives and ignore stories about children plunging to their deaths? Of course not. But we could make a small and positive change in ourselves, encouraging our better nature instead of letting our Schadenfreude run wild.

Will that make this world a better place? Try it and see.

 

 

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  • RozWarren June 7, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Eleanore I guess i assume it’s bad because I was raised to think that minding my own business was a good idea? And my experience with being part of an event that a shitload of strangers were hungry to learn more about was awful. The event itself was awful, but the extra layer of being hounded by the media for the entertainment of folks with a voyeuristic interest in our hardship was pretty creepy. Do you think voyeurism is good?

    Reply
  • Eleanore Wells June 6, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Why is voyeurism bad?

    Reply
  • Just One Boomer June 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I don’t know. There is something voyeuristic about reading these stories, but they also connect to our humaness. We learn about how actually depraved a member(s) of our species can be and we empathize with victims and their families. I agree that the “news” media usually does a disgusting, overblown job of reporting these events and there are times that just reading about them is too much for me to deal with, but life isn’t just about cute, smart puppy stories. Our reaction to these feel good stories are part of our humaness, but I don’t think we should hide from the darker side. (When a grieving family asks the press to get out of their face, they should be left alone.). I realize that the other side of the argument is that the press is bothering them in the first place because people are interested. There’s a line to be drawn somewhere, but I think there is some benefit to knowing what evil (and good) lurks.

    Reply
  • Peggy Browning June 5, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Thank you, Roz. You are right…I started to stop reading your post and Google your name! But I didn’t. This is a great post because it is TRUE.
    Peggy Browning

    Reply
  • RozWarren June 5, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Thanks, Kate. I’m avoiding those stories too!

    Reply
  • Kate Rudd June 5, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Thanks Roz! I am also avoiding the “man eats other man’s face” and “body parts delivered to political party headquarters” stories. News isn’t all peace and love but let’s leave other people’s tragedies private.

    Reply