Comforting the Afflicted

Black_Steele ND Road at Dawn

2016-06-30 – Here’s an interesting saying:

The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

If you want to look up the source, here’s a link. That’s not my point today.

My point today is that our society—you and me—has gotten this all turned around. We comfort the comfortable and afflict (or ignore) the afflicted. Lots of people have a lot to say about comforting the comfortable—Bernie Sanders, for instance. I’ll leave that critique to them

I want to talk about the afflicted. What do we do for them?

At best, we offer impersonal thoughts and prayers. Those go out to refugees or families of mass murders. On a more personal level, we may award someone a frowny face. But often, we just ignore friends who are going through a tough time.

Why is that?

Let me talk about this at a personal level.

I have lost jobs. Co-workers (or former co-workers, if you were marched out the door) mostly shun you. Your so-called friends don’t know what to say, so they say nothing.

I’ve lost loved ones. In the old days, people would come around to comfort you. These days, that’s rare. If you mention the loss on Facebook, you might get a few Likes. Fewer calls. Even fewer visits.

I’ve had one or two family members who suffered grave diseases. And they have been abandoned by all but a brave few.

And I say brave because comforting the afflicted seems to go against the 21st century ethos that responds to any difficulty with anger and entitlement rather than sympathy and tenderness.

We like to think we are all strong individuals who have no need of sympathy. And if we have no need for sympathy, we have no need to give it to others.

In this blog, I have been critical of religion. But some (not all) religious communities make it a duty to comfort the afflicted. Sometimes it is very formulaic.

I think of the Jewish religious community that I grew up in. If a person was sick, that fact was included in the public prayer at the synagogue (a mi-she’berach was said). Though the prayer was an appeal to god, it alerted the community that a member might be in need of help.

If a person died, the family was supported by the community for a week of shiva visitations to their home. And the period of mourning continued for a year, during which the mourner stood up to say a public memorial prayer in the synagogue. In this way congregants would know to continue to extend their sympathy to people with fresh losses. Then three times a year, everyone who had lost family members (potentially everyone) would say a communal memorial prayer that essentially says: it happens to all of us.

Modern people don’t believe this. Modern people think, if they ignore an afflicted “friend,” that they can avoid the sadness—that they can avoid affliction in their own lives.

Unfortunately, you can’t avoid afflictions. We all lose jobs. We all get sick. We all lose loved ones.

We just do it alone.

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