You may have heard about the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in recent past. Similar stories about the Boeing 777, aviation communications systems, stories of passengers, and theories too. We question what had happened and where this plane could be. No doubt, this is a horrific ordeal for the families of the passengers on board. To many of us this story is sad, inexplicable, and unprecedented.
I have even recently heard this specific story being referred to as “a global obsession.” Why is that? Here are three reasons why mysteries, like the missing 370 flight, are so captivating:
As logical people, we look for logical narratives
Humans are very logical beings. When we don’t understand something, or feel confused, we actively seek clarity. We like a challenge. We like to be tested, and we like to feel we could “pass” the test.
When we hear about a mystery, we feel a strong discomfort, and have a desire to create a narrative to solve it. This is why during weeks like this with an active mystery afoot, we find ourselves refreshing our favorite news site online between work tasks, and closely watching news coverage in which experts in their fields speculate about what the facts could indicate.
Solving mysteries helps us grow, and learn from past mistakes, and it also makes us feel more in control. Through understanding we create a narrative which helps us potentially get closure.
Our past shared history
Some of the reasons why mysteries are so fascinating are because of our shared past history, and our past memories of other such events. For example, this story about missing flight 370 likely brings to mind other past stories of aviation tragedies, September 11th and terrorism, hijackings, and the like. It reminds us of our past and our emotions of old.
This shared past history is not specific to us in the United States, it is a shared history we have in common with the international community. We have all been impacted, even if indirectly, by related tragedies. History keeps us keyed into the present through the past and it also helps us feel connected to others, even when they are on the other side of the planet.
We empathize strongly with victims and families
One of the strongest reasons that mysteries involving the human element are so appealing is that we strongly empathize with victims (or potential victims) of tragedy and their families. The media knows this, which is why stories of passengers who were aboard of flight 370 and video of bereft family has been spliced among dryer interviews of experts giving opinions of aviation data.
This emotional content holds our attention and even makes us desperate to help relieve their pain. In fact, sites which allow the public to search satellite radar images of the ocean near Malaysia went offline temporarily earlier this week due to their popularity after news sites mentioned them in stories.
Our empathy is one of our best human strengths. In fact, one of the most frequently uttered phrases I have heard associated with mysterious, inexplicable events like this missing plane is, “I can’t imagine what they are going through”; or, “I can’t imagine what that must be like.” And then, as feeling, empathizing people, we put ourselves in their shoes for a few seconds and feel a wave of what we imagine their emotions to be. Of course, our empathy keeps us captivated but also very, very sad.