this post is a tribute to Farid Younes. one of the greatest minds i’ve known, and a personal mentor to me without him knowing it. “why do people enjoy watching others suffer?” is a question he asked half a dozen years ago in class. and no one had an answer. it stayed with me until now. below is my answer to him.
have you ever seen a herd of deers?
have you seen the way they run when they feel the presence of a predator?
now image what you would feel like if you were a deer running away from the predator AND you have no idea where he is.
compare that with the feeling you get if you saw that predator running away with another deer all the way on the very opposite side of the herd.
you’ll feel a lot more secure, wouldn’t you?
do you know that once the predator gets to one of the deers, the deers actually stop running?
they would actually just stand there feeling a sense of relief wash over them. wouldn’t you be glad it’s not you?
when we were living in the wild, we’ve been programmed that a predator only hunts one prey at a time.
he doesn’t need more. and so once that predator gets his prey, the others are safe.
and watching that predator get his prey, is the cue for the rest of us that we’re safe from harm. this same instinct has remained unchanged in this day and age, even thought there are no more predators to humans.
natural disasters take more than just one person. crashes, diseases, wars, fights, they all take more than one prey.
yet when we see any one of those happening, we stop. our instinct kicks off. we’re fooled during those few second or minutes that there could only be one victim. and we feel immediately secure because we’re not the one. and that’s why we “have” to stop and watch.
we want to know that the predator got his prey, and it’s not us, so we can feel secure. and that’s why people love to watch war news, and disastrous news. that’s why we all stop at car accidents, or fights. and that’s why people actually pay loads of money to watch 2 guys punching the heck out of each other. a few of you might confuse this with feeling insecure and afraid from natural disasters, wars, etc. and might argue that on the contrary, when we know that we might get sick, or the plane can crash, we’ll get worried, not secure. and that’s very true. what you shouldn’t get this confused with is that the feeling of security comes only at the moment that someone “else” is getting hurt. the moment that the predator catches it’s prey. not before, and not after.
after you finish watching the news about some new type of flu, that’s when you feel worried, because your rational brain kicks it and tells you that it could be you. but as you were watching in the news that someone is japan is sick, you instantly felt a sense of relief; that’s the instinct part or your brain (seth godin calls it the lizard brain.)
to clarify this better: let’s take the deer example again. so you’re grazing in an opening, and you’re worried about predators. suddenly a predator appears, you panic and run for your life, all the while looking to see if you’re the prey or not. and whether the predator got his prey or not. the moment you see the catch, boom: instant relief and security. you say to yourself: “thank goodness it’s someone else!” moments later, while grazing again, the fear from predators comes again.it’s in our instincts. we’re hard wired. we need those moments when we see others get hurt so we can relax, at least for those few moments when it’s happening to someone else.
update: for deeper insights into why we behave this way, and what goes on in our brains during that time, please read the comments.
p.s. closely related & coming soon: how we ran animals to death + how that’s related to laziness?