It has been an utterly awful year for Malaysian Airlines, with three airplanes tragedies all due to stupendously bad luck. And while hundreds of deaths is no laughing matter, what’s peculiar is how many narratives have been in the news of those who weren’t on the planes but almost were. From the dutch cyclist who missed two Malaysia flights to the former beauty queen who just missed the AirAsia flight, they have received a lot more attention than the number of deaths per plane.
However, it’s not just missing an airplane flight. We have always been fascinated by people who have escaped death because of fate or luck. And it’s because near-death experiences are narratives in our own character development.
A pastor once complained that we tend to single out those who survived while many died. And notice that “Dutch Cyclist” and “Former Beauty Queen” is more characterization than a list of nationals that died.
What’s amazing is that if none of those airplanes crashed from the cyclist to the beauty queen would have just been one of the many unlucky folks that missed their flight for which I don’t think there is a statistic for. However as I’ve pointed out before, we sympathize with their narratives because they are a face, not a statistic, and serve a positive narrative that in the face of such tragedies they “survived”.
A “Moment of Destiny” or Moment of Self-Development
It’s almost a cliche for characters to change in some way when nearly dying. For example when Jules, Samuel Jackson’s character, from “Pulp Fiction” is not even grazed when a criminal unloads a entire clip at point blank range, he undergoes one of the strongest character developments of recent film history. It’s why when Hitler nearly got killed in 44 he believed he had a “moment of destiny” to not give up a hopeless war (not that I’m comparing you to Hitler, everyone’s Hitler if your on the internet anyway).
It’s because we want to believe that our lives our bigger, that we want to feel a sense of enormity behind our lives, that we upraise those who missed a flight or who were late for work little inconsequential missteps that allows them to survive. Their narratives validating our own that we can also survive and that our survival means something.
From the passengers who missed the AirAsia flight there is a sense of fate. While I don’t know how their lives will change after, in pop culture there is character redemption. Again pointing at “Pulp Fiction” Jules decides to lead a more spiritual life even sparing the man who was going tor rob him (his partner, Vince, chooses not to and is not as lucky). Hitler, instead of thinking maybe he needed to rethink his life instead wiped out any last internal resistance in his shrinking empire and even commissioned a special medal for the survivors (said decision also also did not work out for him).
While almost dying doesn’t necessarily mean we will change, but significant life events can be attached to our own development in our narratives. In marketing, whiles not smart to put customers life in danger, it’s inserting a product or a service that provides a need or opportunity to change their life, and them being a customer is how they find redemption. See Al Pacino’s great “You Rent It” monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross as a great example. That’s why we love these narratives, you don’t have to nearly meet death (though it’s a great motivation) rather they allow us reflect our own life, and how improving it is worth it.