Spoilers: the last taboo

People share nearly anything online these days — including things that no one would ever have considered sharing publicly years ago.

People post about their problems with lovers, their medical problems, their political attitudes, their struggles and triumphs with religion, and their fights with merchants.

The express opinions on the mental acuity of presidential candidates, the appropriateness of owning guns, whether election results were valid, their views on the state and content of other people’s wombs, the relationship challenges of celebrities and members of the royal family, who should go to hell, who should be locked up, which houses are ugly, which people are ugly, which dresses are ugly, and whether you should wear Crocs to a wedding.

There’s an awful lot of fighting, not only about these opinions, but about whether sharing them is appropriate.

But there is no argument at all about sharing one type of content: spoilers.

Spoilers are sacrosanct

How would you feel if I took this opportunity to tell you the solution to today’s Wordle puzzle?

If you play Wordle at all, you’d find that reprehensible. There would be no discussion or disagreement: all of you would think I was a horrible person.

The same applies to the events in the the latest episode of “True Detective” or “The 3 Body Problem” or “Palm Royale” or the new “Walking Dead” series. There’s plenty of argument about how long you need to keep spoilers secret (this article says three to five days), but everyone agrees that revealing the twist the next morning is an etiquette violation.

Heck, there are still people refusing to reveal the twist at the end of “The Sixth Sense” (released 25 years ago).

Why is this one taboo about sharing still universally accepted when all the others are in tatters?

One reason is that the enjoyment of entertainment is one of the few remaining universals. We don’t all watch baseball or garden or go to bars, but nearly everyone watches or streams television programs. Drama is what makes such programs enjoyable. Spoilers ruin drama. Given how much we invest in dramatic entertainment, the cost is high — and the value of delivering a spoiler is just peacocking by the party doing the spoiling. It’s selfish.

And among those who like puzzles, it’s universally true that spoilers ruin the enjoyment. The Wordle is no fun at all if you know the answer. Wordle’s clever sharing feature that lets you share the success or failure of your guesses without revealing the solution is a brilliant workaround. Given that, anyone who shares the answer is a perverse sociopath.

What we have here is a case of universal empathy. We all know what it feels to have your entertainment ruined by a spoiler. So we can all hold ourselves back from sharing, even if we feel the urge to do so, because we can empathize with those whose enjoyment would be spoiled.

You can choose to see this as an anomaly. I choose to see it as something to build on.

Next time you want to make a choice to call names, cast aspersions, or be nasty to another human whose views are different from yours, stop a minute. Imagine, just for a moment, how they will feel. And maybe hold back on demonizing people who disagree with you in favor of finding something you have in common.

There are lots of ways to spoil someone’s day. Many of them are far worse than spoilers. But if you understand why spoilers are wrong, maybe you can take a moment to understand why a blaming people about whatever else is bugging you might not feel so great to them. Even if you disagree. Even if you’re right. Is it really worth it?

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