You surely have eaves-dropped a few times in your life. At least once you heard something you did not like or that caused you hurt. If you did not like what you overheard, it was not meant for your ears, at least not at that moment. But if you remember it now, chances are you stood there, sneakily, listening hard for every syllable of every word of every sentence that you knew from the beginning, once fully formed, will leave you feeling unsettled. What could you have done? What could any of us really have done? It is difficult enough for us to walk away from a private conversation about a stranger, especially when the stranger is sure to not like what is being said about them. It is impossible, then, to stop oneself from shutting the door on a secret passageway opened to another mind, no matter whether what lies on the other side is personal darkness, deceit, anger, hurt, guilt, or regret.
If a code of ethics condemns us from prying into other people’s privacy, it is only logical to believe that any action that is taken basis information accidentally stumbled upon should also be unethical. But ethics are a luxury for which only a few of us have time, patience, and practice, especially when they stand in the way of self-preservation for us and our family. You do not keep hanging out with a close friend whom you caught calling you boring, insensitive, or selfish behind your back. You do not let your child sneak out in the middle of the night when you know they have just the plan. You do not postpone treatment for your parents just because they are not ready to tell you yet and you sure as hell not wait for your cheating partner to confess when you have heard them professing love for another person.
Can we then safely say that while eavesdropping is not ethical in general, it is okay to act upon the information gathered in our larger interest and in the interest of our families? The problem with this belief is that we would not know where to stop. Do other friends also find us insensitive and selfish? Is our child on to more dangerous escapades? What else are our parents hiding about their health? Can we really trust this new person who claims to love us? When we have chance encounters with major hurts, outrage, fears, or traumas in our lives; as humans, trained to scan our environment for possible threats, we can spend our lives in shadows, waiting for the next hurt, next fear, next whisper. And that is no way to live.
What is the solution? To avoid the temptation, no matter how juicy the apple may seem. Learning to disengage ourselves actively from the information not meant for us or not meant for us in a moment is one of the most important learnings we can take up in life. Perhaps when we train our minds to trigger an evacuation response to what is not meant for our ears, we will also be able to discourage the culture of voyeurism that gives us an insatiable hunger for a dead celebrity’s personal life.