Today I was saddened to hear about the tragic death of a woman from Cairns who fell from Windin Falls in northern Queensland. Our hearts and condolences go out to the family and friends who have lost a loved one.
I am reminded of the death of a woman who fell from Boroka Lookout in Victoria last year. Another tragic loss and devastated family. I also think of the shocking GoPro footage of a woman who survived a 15 metre fall off a waterfall in Hawaii in 2019.
When you lose a loved one, the last thing you need is someone telling you that they only have themselves to blame or that they did something bad that contributed to their own death. So I want to tread carefully here, and respectfully raise some issues that, I believe, are worth raising for the safety of those to come.
At this stage, few details have been released regarding the circumstances of the woman from Cairns. We don’t know how she came to be close enough to the waterfall to slip over. However, regarding the woman who fell from Boroka Lookout, it is reported that “the woman had climbed over the fencing to take a photo” (ABC).
Even when people behave in a dangerous way, to some extent, those who die under these circumstances are still victims.
Firstly, they are victims of the careless way people publicly post photos of themselves in apparently dangerous positions. If I do a Google Image search for Windin Falls, I find that 25 of the first 50 images that come up are of people close to the edge of the falls. Many of whom appear to be in a very dangerous position (some of these photos are from news websites reporting on this tragedy).
While some people have been trained in mountaineering skills and know how to approach a cliff edge safely, the average person does not. That means the average person who reads your personal blog or Facebook profile or travel news website, may get the impression that this type of thing is ok, because everybody does it. If you post these types of photos, how much of the blame are you willing to accept when tragedy strikes?
I have participated in several Facebook groups regarding hiking and outdoor adventuring. Often people post on these pages photos that give a similar dangerous message. The issue is often raised by people who, like me, are concerned about this message. The attitudes of people cover the whole range. Some agree that taking these type of photos is dangerous and a hazard for copycats and also for the emergency services who have to rescue or recover. Others say that people are grown-ups and should be able to decide for themselves what they do.
While I can see that people should have a degree of freedom, our society does have rules for the simple reason that our actions also affect others. I wonder, what our roads would be like if we all got to decide for ourselves what side of the road to drive on and how fast.
Secondly, they are victims of the selfie culture. The culture that encourages us to do dangerous things so that we can post photos on the internet. The culture that feeds us “likes” that boost our self-esteem. It is true that some people may not be trying to impress others, they may just find this type of activity exciting. But from the number of people who post their pictures on social media, it does look like many people are in it for the “likes”.
Don’t get me wrong, this attitude is not just because of technology. The technology has made it more visible, but this attitude has been around for millennia. It is something fundamental about the way we see ourselves. What am I willing to do to get people to “like” me? Why does it matter so much to me?
In the biblical book of 1 Samuel, a man named Jesse, who had 7 sons (or possibly 8), was visited by the prophet Samuel. Samuel was looking for the next king of Israel and God had told him to visit Jesse the Bethlehemite since one of his sons would be the new king. When Samuel saw Jesse’s oldest son he thought for sure he would be the one, but God said “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV). Jesse brought in all his sons and, one by one, God rejected all of them. Finally Samuel asked Jesse if he had any other sons and Jesse said there was only his youngest David, who was out keeping the sheep. God chose David.
What is it that makes us so interested in impressing others? It is the fact that people judge others by their outward appearance. How would our world change if we saw things differently? What if we saw ourselves and others the way God sees us? A New Testament author wrote that your idea of beauty should come from “…your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:4 NIV).
Please, for the benefit of those who may copy us, let’s be responsible with the behaviour we are modelling to others, and what we post on the internet. Instead of thinking about how we can impress others, let’s think about how we can save a life. Most importantly, let’s think about why we want to post something in the first place, where we get our sense of self-worth. In the end, what really matters?