Awhile back, I coined the term “Grief Sage” to describe those people in our culture who try to use their suffering as a Teaching License.
Rather than humbly seeking answers to some of life’s deepest questions, a Grief Sage expects the right to SPEAK THEIR OWN TRUTH, without being questioned…because they’re hurting and no one feels confortable contradicting a hurting person.
The post I wrote on the subject is long, and I took great care to say things gently (while using personal examples of my own grief) so that I wouldn’t upset anyone too much. But I don’t have the space to repost the entire thing here, and I’m aware that sharing a shortened excerpt gives people the opportunity to misread my tone.
Here’s an excerpt anyway:
“It worries me the way our culture tends to elevate and revere people who are suffering, WHILE THEY ARE IN THE THICK OF IT.
…my frustration comes from the power we give those who want to use their suffering as a Teaching License. I’m fine with letting a person feel their emotions as long as necessary–but let’s notice the difference between asking “is this God’s will?” and declaring, “this did not happen for a reason.”
There’s a subtle difference between someone who is asking for help and someone inviting you to sit in their lecture hall, while they proudly share their wisdom.
If the person grieving is still in the question-asking stage of their journey, then they’re already processing things, exactly as they should be.
That’s a good thing!
But, when a person demands the final word because she believes that suffering gives her the right to construct her own Truth, she is in a dangerous place.
Today, I just want to share a brief dialog, to better illustrate how a Grief Sage might behave in the wild.
(For clarity while you’re reading this exchange, “Grief Beyond Belief” is a support group for Atheists who have lost loved ones. The Rules for Conduct page on their website specifically says, “Religious, spiritual or pseudoscientific content is not permitted anywhere on this site…”)
I know some of my readers already recognize the contradictions within a “Grief Beyond Belief” philosophy. (Namely, that Atheism IS a philosophy–and nobody can stop being religious.)
But, I’m going to highlight just three of the quotes that make this a perfect “Grief Sage” situation:
#1. “You must speak to me respecting MY background–not yours.”
This is the mantra of the Grief Sage in a nutshell. “I’m the one hurting, so I’m the one controlling the rules of this dialog.” (Well, not just her, but also the rest of the Grief Sages over there proudly enforcing a “Code of Conduct” and calling themselves Freethinkers.) There is no reason given for WHY a person’s Atheism gets blind respect, just because they lost a loved one. That’s just what they’ve decided and it’s a rule they tell people who dare try to offer condolences the wrong way.
#2. “They think their religion, out of 4000 others in the world, is superior.”
Atheists love this talking point whether they’re grieving or not. The problem for them is, they clearly believe their way of thinking is superior as well. This particular Sage actually tells us the point of her whole comment is to help another person do better “in the future,” so she won’t make the same mistake of recommending a video with the word “faith” in it again. (Bad person! You don’t own your words when a Sage is Grieving!)
Further more, she says, “This [tragedy] didn’t happen because a god/goddess needed [my loved one] or because I didn’t believe in [God].” That’s not the position of a neutral party who is refusing to pick sides in a 4000-religion battle: that’s a Sage who believes very firmly that she has some answers, too, and she’s preaching a powerful sermon.
Which brings me to…
#3. “I’ve had to become a spokesperson for other people in my position…”
Obviously. All you have to do is change some words around, and The Sage is saying EXACTLY what I’ve been saying: “I’m in a position (because I’ve experienced loss) to speak [my wisdom] to others.”
Of course, no one dares make any of these points directly TO the Sages, or even in the presence of their Friends/Fans/Worshippers. We must be careful who’s listening when we ask, “Um, do people become good teachers with true things to say, just because they’ve experienced pain?”
Don’t ask that question in public!
If you do, hundreds of Devotees will rise up to “support” the Grieving Person and defend her from your insensitive words. (Honestly, you might as well recommend a religious movie. THAT’S how dumb you are.) In an effort to help you do better next time, the Supporters will shout:
“How dare you invalidate her feelings?”
“People leave the Church because of bigots like you!”
“Why can’t you just be nice and let the Sage boss you around, like the rest of us do?”
Nobody wants to add extra pain to someone who is already hurting. No one wants to contradict a Grieving person, for fear of making their suffering worse…
And so, Grief Sages continually shift entire cultures, leading people astray with their bad philosophies and almost unlimited power.