Why read about disasters

I try not to, but I read about disasters. I listen to the radio and I read the newspapers. We have all heard what happened in Connecticut. Isn’t it enough to be aware that it happened? What could we learn from hearing any more about this horrible incident?


People love the news. Thoreau, in the 19th century, observed how people consumed the newspaper: “After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast. ‘Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe’ “I’ve been trying to stay away from it for the past few days. It’s too hard to listen to.

Then last night I went and watched Titanic. As if enough bad isn’t already going on, I found a hundred-year-old tragedy.



Why do we watch these things? Why didn’t I shut my eyes as twenty half-filled lifeboats left 1,500 people to die in their lifejackets in the Atlantic Ocean? Why do we tune into the news when we know it’s always the horrors we’re going to find out about?




(from http://inapcache.boston.com/universal/site_graphics/blogs



Thoreau said, “If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter- we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”


I know one reason I need to read of all the instances is because I forget. I forget I’m lucky and I forget I need to be careful of what can happen.

I also need to read them because I need to feel it. Something that I think is my human nature tells me that empathy is important.

We want to feel connected to each other, and it’s unfortunate that the only way we can is through the sharing of someone else’s tragedy. We outside get to see the world again through new eyes, eyes that know something they didn’t before. We outside get one step closer to something we know we won’t ever fully understand.

The experience of tragedy is a human emotion, because at one point in all of our lives, we are faced with our own tragic moment. Anything until that moment is practice: empathy for who we will soon need to be. So I feel for you because you are a human, like me, going through the awful things us humans have to go through. The tragic part of it all is that we’re causing most of them.

4 thoughts on “Why read about disasters

  1. I stopped watching the news years ago because it was filled with things I couldn’t do anything about and that bothered me too much. I still end up hearing about these horrible tragedies though. I can’t figure out why we’re fascinated by tragedy either, other than we just want to feel, even if it makes us feel helpless and sad. Maybe we think we can learn from it, but so far I haven’t seen any evidence that we have learned much.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply, Sheila. I want to do the same (forget about the news), but I am becoming a teacher and feel it necessary, in some ways, to be able to discuss these events with my students. Hopefully with these discussions I can help young people look at the media more critically, and decide for themselves how they want to receive their news.

  2. I sometimes feels out of tune because I don’t watch the news – I usually get snippets of the important things through Facebook (hardly a reliable source). But I get where you’re coming from – I just avoid the news because it typically brings me down. “No news like bad news,” as they say.

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