The other day I ran across an interesting piece from a public relations firm called Hennes Communications about how companies respond to horrible events like the recent school shooting in Florida. The piece is intended to provide some advice and guidance in a world where companies, like just about everybody else, feel compelled to take to social media to express their views on what’s going on — especially tragedies.
Entitled “Nobody Cares About Your Thoughts and Prayers,” the piece takes companies to task for rote, mechanical reactions to bad events. The piece notes that “thoughts and prayers” has become the reflexive response, and states: “’Thoughts and prayers’ has become a meaningless message, a quick toss-off for those too lazy, and too disrespectful, to stop, turn off their smart phone, close their office door for a minute and think about the tragedy at hand.” The article notes that other trite, overused reactions are “Our hearts go out . . . ” and “There are no words.” The article says the latter phrase is “mortifying” and responds to the “no words” reaction as follows: “Yes there are. You just said four of them. And if you really believe someone’s tragedy is not worth more thought and human emotion than that, then prepare to be pilloried by the always-vigilant, ever-righteous haters who troll social media.”
And, speaking of social media, if you google “thoughts and prayers” you’re going to find lots of “thoughts and prayers” memes like the one I’ve included as the artwork for this post — all of which express the view that sending “thoughts and prayers” is pretty much useless.
It’s an interesting issue, because we’re confronted with the need to react to tragedy with unfortunate regularity. Occasionally it is a huge calamity, like a hurricane or a mass shooting, but more often it is something that is more personal in scale, like a death in the family or a horrible medical diagnosis or development. When those bad things happen, and you want to acknowledge the profound loss or anguish that someone has experienced, it is hard to capture the right sentiment. Words often do seem inadequate.
Both of my parents have been dead for years, so my own experience with being on the receiving end of condolences isn’t fresh — but I know that I appreciated it when people took the time to add a meaningful personal note. Whether it was recounting some nice personal memory of Mom or Dad, or speaking from the heart about how they dealt with the loss of their own parents, those little personal notes meant a lot, and I still remember them. When dealing personally with grief, I appreciated all of the good wishes, and I obviously wasn’t grading the condolences I received on the “rote expression” scale, as apparently happens on social media these days — but all I know is that the more individualized notes really had the biggest impact.
So, I agree that words do matter. Basic sentiments of support are fine, I think, but well-chosen, thoughtful expressions of concern and support can really make a difference.