The Tragedy of the Commons: In economics, the tragedy of the commons is the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to their long-term best interests. ~ Wikipedia
Have you ever been on a highway and there was a slow-down, with both lanes moving at a crawl… Then five minutes later you see a car on the side of the road with a tow truck, and every driver is slowing down to take a look, which is the reason the traffic slowed! Why is it necessary to slow down and see something that is not in the way of traffic? What were all the drivers expecting to see? ‘We’ have an incredible infactuation with seeing morbid things.
This doesn’t just happen on highways. A tragedy happens and people are glued to their televisions, and simultaneously on their computers, tablets and phones. And news media monopolies know this. They feed us like we are hungry vultures. We circle them, and they circle us… feeding us every gory detail to be sure that we stick around and feed on all they offer. This has manifested into a new kind of ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, this one social-emotional rather than economic. We blindly follow the horrifying stories of news conglomerates, and worse yet, we become part of the conglomerate, Tweeting and Facebooking and blogging our perception of the tragic event.
This social-emotional tragedy of the commons works inversely to the economic one described above. Instead of there being a depletion of a shared resource, there is instead an overabundance of a unnecessary emotional resources: sadness and sorrow. Instead of ‘individuals, acting independendently and rationally according to each one’s self interest’, we act as a herd sheepishly and irrationally following our compassionate and empathetic hearts, not in self-interest… As it turns out, not in anyone’s best interest.
In my recent post ‘Care or Fear‘, I shared how we go on and perpetuate these negative emotions in our schools. Students can’t be kids anymore. Instead, they ‘need’ to be exposed to all that is sad and evil in the world. I’ve previously wondered why, “we tend to pay far more attention to people and things that are negative and annoy us than on the things we should be happy and appreciative about.”
Turn on the news and what do you see? Tragedy. You might, in an hour long program, see one ‘feel good’ news report. You will see sadness, destruction and loss (of property, of profit, of freedoms and rights, of life).
We know that things like school shootings and suicide increase after media coverage of such tragedies. I’m sure morbid interest led some of you to follow those links above, but they don’t link to examples, they link to research articles instead. I haven’t read the articles, just the abstracts, but they say enough:
“The development of a code of rules to report on these episodes, likely to attract the interest of the population for their bloody implications, could prevent the dissemination of cultural norms that encourage this behavior.” Antonio Preti, MD
“Conclusions regarding the possible reduction of imitative suicidal behaviour by influencing mass-media-reports are drawn. Experiences from the media campaign are presented, as well as considerations about further research.” E. Etzersdorfer & G. Sonneck
It didn’t take me long to find these papers. I’m sure a thorough search would find even better examples. The fact is that we know, both through research and from historical evidence, that glorified stories perpetuate the very sadness we are appalled by. But that doesn’t stop a major national magazine, MACLEAN’S, from glorifying a killer on their front cover page. I’ve shared the cover below, but took some creative liberties with a red pen to prevent this very post from doing what I wish others wouldn’t.
When I see a cover page like this, I’m left wondering what we truly value in our society?
Wrong information always shown by the mediaNegative images is the main criteriaInfecting the young minds faster than bacteriaKids wanna act like what they see in the cinemaYo’, whatever happened to the values of humanityWhatever happened to the fairness in equalityInstead of spreading love we’re spreading animosityLack of understanding, leading us away from unity
Indeed we have a new, social-emotional, tragedy of the commons. Despite our understanding that perpetuating the onslaught of negative news is, ‘contrary to [our] long-term best interests’, we still do it. And social media isn’t making things any better. We used to be able to blame the media monopolies and moguls, but now we are the news-makers: We publish freely, and quickly and without thought as to how we are part of the problem.
If we truly want to share our love and compassion and empathy, then let’s do so in a way that will exemplify what we want to see, rather than glorify what we don’t want to see. Can we gather enough momentum to combat masses of people wanting the macabre details of tragic events? Or are we destined to see this new tragedy of the commons destroy our emotional well being? I will do my best to do my part. I hope you will do the same. But is that enough? Can we somehow implement rules for media to share bad news more responsibly? Can we change the world with a story that isn’t horrific and headline newsworthy? I hope so.
I shared this old Cherokee story just over 4 years ago. I share it again here as a reminder of the battle that ‘we’ are all fighting:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
“The other wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
“The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person too.”
The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
And finally I leave you with the words I’ve shared in my email signature for years now… may these words guide us all away from tragedy:
Think Good Thoughts, Say Good Words, Do Good Deeds.