Stories to Evoke Fear; Stories to Inspire Love

This is part 2 of my story of being subjected to the “texting while driving” video making the rounds, the kind of unintended effects videos like this can have, and why the alternative is so much more satisfying.

To sum up from yesterday, a friend of mine posted on Facebook the “texting while driving” video, which contains an extreme, violently graphic depiction of a severe (maybe fatal) auto accident. My friend posted this with only one comment, that it’s “a short video that speaks volumes.” Not a word of warning regarding its nature or content. And I frankly beg to differ regarding how well it “speaks” and what it says.

For the full experience, however, click here for part 1.

No Warnings, No Second Chances

Needless to say, watching the “texting while driving” video over-stimulated me. It enraged me, in fact, because I know that it’s unlikely to have any real effect on anyone’s actual behavior. Because people who are likely to engage in obviously risky behavior like that are going to take a “that’s not gonna happen to me” attitude, because the story doesn’t actually apply to characters they can sympathize with. Remember, I said we never got to know the girls in the car. They were just third-persons, dead bodies at the side of the road, a spectator sport.

But the intense emotions are real. And they end up being attached to something, because that’s how the mind works. In fact, that’s one way that people can develop dysfunctional, compulsive behaviors and phobias, because they associate the behaviors with specific feelings, or the fear with specific objects. And some therapies attempt to treat those dysfunctions by breaking the association, allowing the behavior or object to become a normal memory, rather than invoking feelings at the instinctual level.

And when I watched the video, the feelings I felt became attached to something. The revulsion I felt watching the scene, and the rage at having sat through it, glued to the screen, I attached these things not to the video, but to the person who presented me with this video, told me it was “a short video that speaks volumes,” without a word of warning as to its subject matter or content.

I immediately vowed never to watch another video that he posted, because I didn’t want to feel swindled again. And I may carry through on that threat, because it upset me that much.

The Punchline

Even the film The Aristocrats warned you that it’s about the most vile, disgusting joke ever conceived, before anyone on film actually told you the joke. But that I got. That was funny. Vile and disgusting, yes, but still funny. Because it was a joke.

Hey, maybe that’s how I should describe the “texting while driving” video:

Two guys are sitting in a bar.

“I saw this Internet video today,” says one. “A bunch of girls get into this car accident because the driver is texting. And it’s awful. They start by drifting into the oncoming traffic and getting into a head-on collision, and they’re whipped around, and their heads are slammed into the windshield, and there’s shattering glass and blood everywhere. And then just as they’re regaining consciousness, they get rammed from the side at full-speed. And there’s more crashing and crunching and heads going through windows and blood, and I swear one of the girls necks must’ve broken in two—at least that’s how it looked. And there’s blood dripping from her head and gushing down her face, and another one looks like she’s dead, and the driver sees her beside her and starts crying and, like, freaking out.” Shakes his head. “Pretty awful.”

The other guy at the bar says, “God, that’s heavy,” you know, because he’s trying to take it seriously and hide how disturbed he is. “What’s the video called?” he asks.

The first guy says, “Oh. The Aristocrats!”

On second thought, I’m not sure that makes it much better, because it still reminds me too much of Lynne’s accident. (Not her real name, by the way.)

I never met Lynne, but she’s the niece of an old friend from years past, a friend who back in the day occupied a special place in my life. This past June, Lynne got into a serious auto accident. I’m not sure of the details. But she made it to the hospital, pretty torn up, physically, from the accident. And through numerous major surgeries over the past months, she has been slowly recovering. Earlier this month, she finally went home, though she still has to shuttle back and forth to the hospital for frequent check-ups and procedures and so forth. It’s been an uphill battle for Lynne, but her friends and extended family have supported and loved her, have pulled out the stops to make sure her medical bills are paid for and her family’s basic needs are all met.

Her story inspires me. I need more of those stories in my life.

That’s the real punchline. There are some stories that evoke fear, trouble, worry, sadness, anger, and nothing else. Want examples? Turn on the TV news. Or read any of the Internet news sites. Almost everything on there invokes fear, panic if possible, because fear sells. Our instincts are pre-programmed to prioritize fear over pleasure, because that’s necessary for survival. So everything’s a disaster, or at least a disaster waiting to happen. And fear can turn to worry, and that can make us do crazy, stupid things, like give up hope and become engulfed in a cloud of depression.

But there are some stories that encourage hope. They show you that it’s okay to take risks, that very few mistakes are permanent, and that even when you’re at rock-bottom, it’s still possible to go up. They evoke strong emotion, yes, but they attach that emotion to a higher purpose. They urge you to turn yourself outward to help, encourage, and teach. Rather than evoking fear, they inspire love.

These are the stories I aspire to write. And these are the stories I long to hear.

-TimK