Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Platitudes

Yesterday someone on Twitter commented about the ridiculous comment they received about their divorce: "Life goes on."  He seemed frustrated by the other person's apparent lack of compassion, understandably.

After the fire, we heard our share of platitudes: "It's just stuff."  "At least no one was hurt."  "Everything happens for a reason."

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Those things were hurtful then, and even thinking about them makes me seethe a bit.  After the Twitter comment I started thinking about why we say those things, even when they are disingenuous.

I'm pretty certain that these sayings having nothing to do with the people living through any number of bad situations.  Instead, those things are said to make ourselves (those not living in a nightmare) feel better.

If everything happens for a reason, then we protect ourselves from the randomness of trauma.  If all of our things are just material possessions with no meaning, perhaps if we do find ourselves on the other side of luck, we can imagine it wouldn't hurt us.  Telling others that life goes on is our way of removing ourselves from the emotional intensity of stress.

But this protection is fake.  You cannot protect yourself, no matter how many trite phrases you think of to reassure yourself in the midst of someone else's trauma.

All of us endure tragedy, and all of us need reassurance in those moments.  But what we need isn't false emotion.  We need human connection.  We need a hug.  We need a hand.  We need a crew of friends and strangers to sift through our ashes.  That is genuine compassion... and a hell of a lot more helpful than telling someone "Life goes on."

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