Good Trees, Bad Trees: If It Isn't On the News, Did It Happen?

Most everyone has heard the adage, “If a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?” or words to that effect.

If it's not in the news, did it even happen?

Philosophers have argued the point for centuries. Sound is vibration picked up by our ear and only recognized as sound at our nerve centers. So if nobody is around, and the tree falls, there is no sound … philosophically speaking, anyway.

But it seems to me a modern version of that axiom might be, “If it isn’t reported in the news, did it really happen?”

What got me wondering about this is when I heard about an assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy three years prior to his assassination 30 years ago on Nov. 22, 1963.

How many Weekender readers remember reading about that or hearing about it on TV back in 1960 (yes, youngsters, there was TV in 1960)? Or if you’re too young to remember the event, did you ever read or hear about it in your history classes?

I would guess not. It involved Richard Pavlick, a man who was apprehended just before he was preparing to blow up JFK and his family as they left church, right after he was elected but before he was sworn in.

Pavlick strongly opposed Kennedy on religious grounds, believing JFK was going to allow the Vatican to run the country. The point here is that this was a major news story that most of us never heard about; thus, if we didn’t know it all these years, did it happen?

If you use the philosophical tree adage, we didn’t hear it, so it didn’t happen … for each of us who never heard about it, anyway.

The fact that there was a two-plane, mid-air collision that killed 134 people the same day probably stole the headlines and the story became buried in history. How many of you heard about the plane crash? But that’s beside the point. You’d still think the assassination attempt would have made a big enough dent in history to qualify for a paragraph or two in the history books.

Back then, we didn’t have 24-hour news networks, no cell phone photos and video, no satellite feeds. There were two or three major networks, news was at 5 or 6 p.m. and they all played the National Anthem at midnight, then went to fuzzy snow until next morning.

So for the majority of Americans, it never happened. For many Weekenders, it never happened – until now, when you found out about it, after the fact. Now, it becomes reality.

My question is this: is this a bad thing?

I mean, really, maybe what we don’t know doesn’t always hurt us; but knowing about all the things over which we have no control, maybe can.

If that attempted assassination on JFK had occurred today, there would have been instant (and on-going) reporting, analysis, reenactment and debate for you and I to stress over for weeks and months. And there wouldn’t have been a darned thing we could do about it.

Now, I know that knowledge is power; but, just as absolute power corrupts absolutely, maybe too much knowledge is so powerful that many of us can’t handle it.

The thing is, today we are inundated with news from around the globe about things that have been part of the human condition for millennia; war, natural disasters, famine, disease, man’s inhumanity to man, and so on. These are things that, even 150 years ago, we would not have known about for months – if ever at all – and then no video at 11, no actualities from the field and only rare sepia-tone photos. The absence of visual impact would have lightened the blow.

Ignorance is bliss, it is said, and sometimes in this modern world I think that is true. It is hard to hold on to the agony of the world and not be able to do anything about it.

On the flip side, good news can be transmitted just as quickly and widely. Good people hear about tragedies and rally to help. The efforts by many good people after all those disasters can be relayed to us, reminding us that there are 10 good people for every one bad.

We see the impact that one small kindness can have on many different people and how it can “pay forward.” News reaches us instantly about man’s humanity to man.

I guess in the final analysis, in the modern world, we have a choice of which trees we prefer to hear fall – loud, obnoxious negative, depressing bad trees; or uplifting, refreshing positive good trees. I have found that I can only absorb so many bad trees crashing and thundering to the ground before I lose sight of the forest. When I reach my limit, I can hit the “off” switch.

Positive trees, on the other hand, seem to make a sweeter, less irritating sound when they fall with a swish and that makes me feel good about life.

So I think I’ll look for the good trees. I’ll listen to the bad trees to stay informed, but when I begin to experience “bad tree overload,” I’ll seek out good trees to balance things out.

For those who continue to listen only to the bad trees, the sound will be their reality; but in my little sphere of existence, I will continue to seek the occasional silent, blissful ignorance.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email