We’ve all been stuck behind someone who is “guilty” of this, and likely have been the one causing the delay ourselves. When there is a car accident, people slow down and look. Sometimes this distracted driving even creates another rear-end accident. As a car accident attorney here in Bellingham, I hear the details of many crashes, and it’s compelled me to wonder about why we do this.

What is it about a car accident that makes people want to stop and stare? Do we have some morbid desire to experience suffering, as long as it’s through other people? Is this simply a character flaw stitched into our DNA or is there something positive to it?

A writer researching this in Psychology Today pulled together a few theories. One traces this behavior back to childhood,

In Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes, and Make-Believe Violence, Gerard Jones argues that children can benefit from exposure to fictional violence because it makes them feel powerful in a “scary, uncontrollable world.”

It’s not so much the fighting itself but the way that act feels. It promotes a feeling of strength and power to someone so small and who is at the mercy of adults and the complicated world they’ve created that children will inherit. As the kids imagine their way into the bodies of these action figures, they are infused with a sense that they can handle whatever comes.

You’d think that, as adults, we would outgrow this tendency, but that’s not so. (For example, this LA Times article states that an estimated 4 million assault weapons are legally owned by Americans, and in most cases, despite the extremely low chance of ever needing to use one.) In fact, it seems to be coming out of something even more intrinsic, a phenomenon that Carl Jung brought into the light with his work on the shadow.

Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung elucidated this concept in an effort to marry the opposite impulses of good with bad, for lack of less superficial terms. He believed that mental health depends on a healthy relationship with our shadow, the part of our psyche in which live commonly held but not often talked about “darker impulses” like harming others and even ourselves. But while these are normal aspects we all share, repressing them and pretending otherwise just adds to the pressure to stay on the up and up, kind of like trying to hold a beach ball full of air under the water.

Another question this raises, then is: as we rubberneck by an accident are we rehearsing for what we might do in that situation? Practicing, if you will, just in case the time comes? After all, as the saying goes, the only two things that are sure in life are death and taxes. Though I’ve felt, and heard all too often, judgmental declarations about whatever caused the wreck, as in, “I would never drive drunk or distracted, and that’s probably exactly what caused the crash.” And chances are, that’s true.  But this distancing can lead to a false sense of misunderstanding. Just watch watch this video on distracted driving. It is tragic because there’s the obvious victim who was killed, but the distracted driver is their own victim as well in living with the unbearbale knowledge that she killed someone.

And so, maybe there’s an opportunity for empathy here. If we all share a fascination for “the end of life as we know it” because we know that end is going to come, then gawking can be an opportunity for understanding, invoking not emotions of superiority but appreciation for our life and, sometimes just pure luck.

I’m open to your comments, and here to help if you ever need a lawyer for any kind of personal injury case. You can reach me here or just call 360-303-0601.

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