Something Mum would do as she got older greatly irritated me, though I never took her to task for it. If a particularly distressing story came on the news she would deliberately seek not to pay any attention to it at all, often demanding that I change the channel. I always did, but not without a feeling that there was something fundamentally wrong with Mum's almost ostentatious desire to shut out the pain of others.
I mention this because just now Sky News was carrying a grim story about a little girl whose mother finally killed her after months of abuse and I had a very strong impulse to change channels. I resisted the impulse, but it gave me a powerful insight into what had motivated Mum years ago. She hadn't been putting on a show; her need to protect herself from the distress of others was viscerally real. I think I knew this then, which is why, thankfully, I never made an issue of it.
This leads me now to the question of why it feels so wrong to not feel able to listen to this kind of story. Let's face it, it's difficult to see what good listening does, especially when you might uncomfortably recognise an element of something close to voyeurism in the experience. I suppose the guilt felt in entertaining the impulse to turn away lies in the sense that somehow or other you're failing to honour or acknowledge the real pain of others in doing so.
There's something true in that, but the problem is that we'd be overwhelmed by the suffering in the world if we didn't, in some sense, learn to turn away.