Just How Should We Feel?

It’s pretty typical after a big disaster for people to want to dictate to others how they should feel. Are they telling the wrong jokes or enjoying every day life too soon? Are they feeling bad for the wrong people? Are they donating to the wrong cause? Are their worries and fears and frustrations misguided? The thing is, we can’t really control our feelings. We can control what comes out of our mouths, (heh- typically), but our feelings come from a place within, that isn’t so easily structured. So good, bad, wrong, misguided, or even completely apathetic. How can they be wrong?

Everybody has interests, and completely different compassions and focuses on separate issues based on their own life experiences. Luckily. If everybody reacted in exactly the same way and supported exactly the same issue, there’d be a whole list of stones unturned. Do we have disaster cleanup down to a science? Absolutely not. Is every base covered? Hardly. But my point is, it’s important for different roles to be filled in society, and it’s completely valid for people to be focused on different aspects of grief or sad about different things.

Think about what it was like during the last funeral you attended. You’ve got Grandma wailing in the front row, uncle so and so telling dirty jokes in the back while taking swigs from his flask, you’ve got the cousin that refuses to enter the same room as the dead body, the aunt who says, ‘this is what they would’ve wanted.’ you’ve got the other aunt looking for her share of the inheritance and the brother who is telling everyone how negligent the doctors had been. The neighbor who remembers the good old days and the step son who never met the deceased and is playing video games in the hallway. And then we have the folks that are snickering that certain family members aren’t acting accordingly. Suzy didn’t cry enough. Johnny isn’t here. Betty’s over-doing it. Molly is just faking it for attention.

After a disaster we’ve got the, rebuild bigger than before folks, the this is God’s will folks, the volunteers, the out-of-towners who can’t really grasp the enormity of the situation, those who spring into action, the donate $10 by text message and move on folks, those who think you ought to worry about your own community, those who bring up the money we spend on other causes, the weatherman standing in the midst of the situation, the victims, the pundits on TV assessing every little thing, and on and on. People come at this from so many positions.

We contemplate how we could have avoided this situation, victim blaming, public official blaming, politicians didn’t do the right things, act partisan enough, blaming the media for skewing the entire situation before and afterwards.

First second and third reactions sometimes are wrong, hurtful, misguided. But can at the same time be right because they’re honest, authentic, deep-rooted.

Can we be horrified for flood victims and sad that a marathon is cancelled at the same time? Certainly. Can we feel bad for those without power, but be grateful we aren’t affected in the least? Certainly. Can we be sad that people died, but be more preoccupied by the latest drive-by-shooting in our own neighborhoods as well. Again, certainly. I don’t think it means people aren’t compassionate if they don’t vocalize the same specific compassions and sadness as the next guy. Everybody draws their own compassion from places that we can’t even begin to understand. Even this blog can be criticized because it isn’t focusing on the real situation, like ways you could help victims. But like I said, there’s many roles to be filled, many different valid reactions to any given situation. Just think what it would be like if ten grandmas were losing it in front, you may have completely missed the beautiful eulogy, and that is what meant the most to you.

Jazz Funeral, New Orleans

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2 responses to “Just How Should We Feel?

  1. I really like this post, highlighting the autonomy of compassion and subjective human nature. Well done.

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