I work at a newspaper, and am very, very familiar with the human tendency to rubberneck. It is why crime stories are usually the most-read on our paper’s website. It is why horror movies get made. It is why hearing the grisly details of a friend’s breakup is way more fun than hearing about a nice Saturday afternoon spent in bed cuddling.
It is a deep-seated, natural thing. There is an evolutionary advantage to paying attention to bad, scary things. Lions are more important than beetles. By observing the bad things that happen to other humans, it feels like maybe we can protect ourselves from those same bad things.
It doesn’t make it right. Ever since Katrina, whenever I tell people I’m from or went to school in New Orleans, they immediately ask whether I was there for the storm. When I say yes, there is a brief flicker of delight.
“So … were you THERE for it? I mean, did you see BODIES?”
“Was all your STUFF ruined?”
“Oh my GOD, that must have been AWFUL. What was it LIKE?”
I know people are just trying to be conversational; they do not mean any harm. But I don’t feel like rehashing a personal tragedy every time I meet someone at a houseparty. That shit gets exhausting.
Don’t ask someone with a severe injury, or severe injury scars, what happened. Don’t ask people you are not close with why they broke up with someone. Don’t ask how this person’s mom died. Don’t ask people from New York about 9/11. If people want to share that information with you, they will.