September 22, 2016

Why we turn Suffering into Entertainment—A Response to the Aniston, Pitt & Jolie Triangle.


Obviously, I don’t know Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie personally.

In fact, truth be told, I hardly know who they are. I don’t watch television. I see mostly independent films and I don’t use Twitter, or other forms of social media.

That being said however, a long time ago, my meditation teacher taught me how to “know” people like Aniston, Pitt and Jolie and today, I know that all three are suffering human beings caught in a drama that is not unique and that is also painful, challenging and obviously not bringing out the best in them.

What they are going through is hard. No matter how beautiful or how glamorous or how “front-page worthy” it is. They—along with their many children—remain suffering human beings in the same sense that you or I are.

I also know that I have yet to see any of the people involved in this drama given compassion and empathy by the media. Instead, it appears to me that in the world of television and entertainment “news,” Twitter, and even Facebook, the lives of Aniston, Pitt and Jolie are just so much fodder.

“Why do you do that?” my meditation teacher had asked in her dharma talk. “Why do you talk carelessly about the life of another when it is not yours to talk about?”

“It’s entertaining,” someone in the group said. “I guess it’s fun,” another said. “It’s a distraction.”

“Exactly,” the teacher pointed out. “It’s a distraction and definitely not fun.”

“What you are actually doing is making other people’s struggles into entertainment in service of your own ego’s need to keep you focused outside yourself instead of inside yourself.”

And then she gave the kicker.

“You think you have never done what they have done. But you are wrong. You have your own version of it and you watch what they are doing to hide your version from yourself and to prove that you are better than they are.”

I have never forgotten my teacher’s powerful lesson and grew to understand that for me, watching or following celebrity drama had no real purpose that was rooted in compassion or empathy.

In other words, I didn’t need to know the details of their lives.

Compassion and empathy don’t need details—they only need to know that suffering is taking place. Not why. Not where. Not how many times and not even who to blame.

When I do otherwise, I merely fan a fire that does no one, including myself, any good.

To quote Thich Nhat Hanh:

“One of the biggest drawbacks to using [the drama of others] to entertain ourselves is that we end up feeling not happier, but actually less happy. So often we [watch the dramas of other people’s lives] to “distract ourselves from uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, depression, anger, loneliness, boredom, etc. …in an attempt to cover over the painful feelings inside us and to fill up the feeling of a void in our [own] lives. A lot of [media] can be quite toxic, watering seeds of craving, fear and violence in us.” 


Author: Carmelene Siani

Image: George Biard/Wikimedia Commons, Pimkie/Flickr

Editor: Catherine Monkman




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