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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Shopping for Truth: Curiosity

Published: September 19, 2008
Section: Opinions

As I made my way to the homestretch of my walk last weekend and made it closer to my driveway, I passed by a scene that at first glance appeared normal. Two cars had stopped in front of the traffic light adjacent to my driveway and one of the drivers, a young woman in her early twenties with blonde hair, was leaning into the passenger side window of her car, talking to the man she had driven with—her father, as I later found out. The scene didn’t seem weird to me at the time so I just walked into my back door and took out the homework assignment I had been putting off all day.

After a few minutes, though, and the growing hubbub outside that was interrupting my peaceful yet labored reading-it was the weekend after all- my dad came inside and explained that there had been a car accident outside our house and that this young woman had hit the car in front of her.

But what had seemed like a normal rear ended car collision quickly turned into this young woman’s arrest. And of course, as the story developed more, and the drama unfolded, My family and I became a bit more curious.

Initially, I hadn’t really even looked at the cars as I walked by because, like in so many other situations in life, the actual scenery became what it was meant to be—a backdrop. I didn’t care about the two cars parked there, what caught my attention were the people. Of course, I would later take a closer look at the cars to see the damage that had been done, but that was just an afterthought.

As the Medford police officers placed this woman under arrest and she sunk to the ground in front of my fence, I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to her. We all came to the conclusion that she was intoxicated due to several indicators such as her disheveled appearance, her demeanor, and her inability to physically hold herself upright.

I found that I had to walk away from the window at one point because, although I had been concerned by what was occurring, I was actually filled with mixed feelings of both curiosity and guilt as this scene unfolded before my eyes.

Of course, I wasn’t doing anything as extreme as people who run over to an accident to stare at the victims, and there was no physically injured person. What was unique about this incident was that the only people—at least the only people I was aware of—-who were watching were my family members. We were right there so we didn’t exactly go out of our way to see this. But still, I felt like an invader in the unpublished life story of a person untouched by an editor and nowhere near ready for publication.

And just about a month ago, while sitting in Harvard square discussing video media with two acquaintances, another accident occurred—this one a motorcycle crash. Immediately, everyone’s initial reaction was to jump up and squint as much as they could through the blazing sun to catch a glimpse of one person’s pain.

What’s the big fascination? Everyone is always a bit curious about what goes on in other peoples’ lives; gossip is a clear indicator of this fact. We talk about others lives, we read about it in newspapers and magazines, and we watch it right on TV. Reality TV –Big Brother anyone?–itself is proof that we love to watch controversy, we love a good fight and we crowd around a gossip fest.

But all of these outlets don’t register quite the same feeling as ‘spying’ would because you have seemingly paid for your front seat priority pass to this or that tragedy. With an accident, though, it just happens and we’re simply there in the right place at the right time. The gossip, if you will, is right in front of your eyes and you don’t have to seek out primetime or the headlines for the latest sensation because it just fell into your lap.

Why are we always so quick to stare hypnotized at a tragedy and only half register the positive stories? Surely we do have a penchant for happiness too. I’m sure the high sales of magazines boasting covers with married celebrities or newly-born children can attest to that. But there’s always something different about these stories, something that just resembles novelty. Somebody gets married every day, but how many times do you witness somebody else’s’ tragedy at your own feet?

But why does a juicy headline sell more papers or get more Google hits than a happy, human interest story? Maybe we’re all just sadistic; maybe we’ve been wired to think that way; maybe we’re all just fish in a transparent glass case and one person’s life barrier is just as penetrable as the next one . Maybe we’ll just never know why. But what we can know is that we do crowd; we do gossip; we are, simply put—nosy. People often say that curiosity killed the cat, but curiosity is also a revered tenet in the world of the craft of journalism. So what is curiosity then, bad or good?

The answer seems to be neither of the above. It is a natural tendency to be curious and in fact, sometimes we are unable to control our initial curiosity instincts when something interesting happens. So rather than condemning one another for being ‘nosy,’ however, the important lesson seems to be cognizance. Realizing what we do is the first step to understanding why we do it after all.