I was sitting in the dealership customer lounge waiting for my car to be serviced. Six other people were also there. A news channel was on the television with President Obama speaking about jobs and the state of the economy. I looked around the lounge and saw that everyone was busily involved in other things – listening to music players, on the net, reading, talking. Then the news channel reported a story about someone unfortunately being mauled by a shark. Even though he was heroically rescued, he died soon thereafter. I looked around the lounge during the story. Everyone – without a single exception – was watching it. The channel switched back to President Obama and everyone lost interest again. It switched to another story about a plane landing in Florida that dropped some of its parts onto a mall parking lot. Again – everyone looked up to watch the story. Being a writer, I’m always looking for motivations. What does this mean?
Then I recalled the Sundance Channel show that prompted this blog – The Planet. Psychologists on that show presented the idea that humans have an innate avoidance mechanism that causes us to back away from issues, ideas, occurrences that are too large to process down to an individual level. Is that whatwas happening? Is that why people tuned in to stories about individuals and zoned out on President Obama because he was talking about something that was uncomfortable to listen to because it affects ‘millions of people’ in his words? The shark story was tragic. The airplane story could have been tragic if the parking lot hadn’t been empty. Millions of people out of work is tragic. So it isn’t an avoidance of tragic circumstances. If the psychologists are right, then it is heroic for a person to involve themselves in a overwhelming tragedy. It is that kind of heroism – the courage to step out of the comfort zone despite the overpowering urge not to – that makes for a good story.