Guest blog: Collective emotion

[This article was written by my good friend Sali Green, reproduced with Sali’s kind permission]

An unexplainable sadness hit a great many people on hearing of the death of Peaches Geldof. But is it unexplainable? Some feel surprised and uncomfortable that they become part of a collective grief over someone they never met. Others show annoyance that such a fuss could be made about one person when there are so many people suffering in the world. Both reactions are natural, as are the vast spectrum of feelings around and in between them.

Emotions can be intensified because of sad news – the fragility of life; reminding us of our own losses; love and appreciation for those around us strengthened. New life lessons are learned and our young people educated.

For example, a lot of people didn’t know anything about Peaches’ mum, Paula Yates, and their research will reveal her as one of the most innovative presenters ever. She was right in the thick of ’80s pop culture. She co-presented The Tube with the eclectic musician Jools Holland. She oozed musical knowledge and enthusiasm, along with bleach-blonde sparkle, fascination and wit. She wore her heart on her Minnie Mouse sleeves and could be described as kooky. She embraced her desires and followed her heart, and things got messy. Peaches had the same kind of creative spirit and intelligence, and yet had to grow up knowing that the lady who passed these qualities down to her had been snatched away from her very suddenly.

When our hearts feel wrenched by the news of a loss that is not close to us, it doesn’t mean we are jumping on some kind of bandwagon of drama because we’re interested in hearing about it, thinking about it and seeing it in the media. It means that we have compassion. We can send comfort to the family/friends who are acutely suffering the loss just by spending time holding them in our thoughts.

Caring for other humans and sentient beings is a beautiful thing. It’s why people protest for those who don’t have a voice or the wherewithal to help themselves. A friend died just over a year ago and I remember her mum saying she felt conscious of maybe seeming too smiley and friendly at her daughter’s funeral. Raw emotion is unpredictable and has its own beauty. Grief is private and public; it seeps out in different ways, combined with anxiety. Some people lose a partner and onlookers wonder how they can fall in love with someone else in a different timescale than they would have expected – not your bus to drive!

If you shed tears for someone not closely connected to you, why shouldn’t you? If you hear Pharrell Williams singing ‘Happy’ half an hour later and feel like dancing, that’s your choice too. Let’s not criticise how other people respond to life and death.

Group hug?

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One thought on “Guest blog: Collective emotion

  1. It is called empathy and only those who have suffered great loss can be genuinely empathetic…we put ourselves in the place of the person suffering because we have been there. The Bible tell us: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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