America’s Emotion-Credibility Gap
Loss is one ‘thing’ you don’t need an “expert” to weigh in on to acknowledge. So why is America so reluctant to acknowledge loss?
On January 8, Brian Sicknick of the DC Capitol Police became one of 5 fatalities of the January 6 violent attempt to wrest power from the US Senate.
On May 27 the Brian Sicknick “family” showed up at US Senators’ doorways — ten Republicans, in fact — to pitch them on voting in favor of creating a bi-partisan independent commission to investigate the Capitol “Breach” of January 6.
Place yourself in this scene: a grieving family, a “delegation of loss” — mom, girl friend, fellow Capitol Police Officer — soliciting votes for a Senate Commission to investigate their son’s, partner’s, team member’s death.
Their loss that America has a stake in.
A deeper, more crushing inference came from the lips of Brian Sicknick’s partner, Sandra Garza, who asked Senators to remember:
What was Brian and other Capitol Police defending that day? What did Brian and his colleagues risk their lives to defend?
Take a gulp, America, your loss-blindness has just been outed.
Why is America so reluctant to acknowledge loss?
Press reporting on the Sicknick tragedy are quick to clarify that Sicknick died of natural causes two days after the Capitol insurrection.
As if his loss were mitigated by not being directly tied to a fire extinguisher to the head blow captured in a gritty iPhone video. This shyness at revealing tragedy bares the essence of the blindness: what don’t we see?
Start with the bizarre event(s) unfolding: a grieving family seeking answers on behalf of a nation going about its business… oh, wait, isn’t that what we elect representatives to do? A grieving family “needing to speak out…can’t be silent any more.” Think Parkland students skirting PTSD on the way to class… oh, wait, aren’t schools supposed to be safe places? Certifying the results of an election, isn’t Congress supposed to be a safe place?
Eloquence halts at the casket. Questions seeking answers remain.
On May 27 California Governor Gavin Newsome visited with family members suffering loss resulting from a mass execution in San Jose. An execution by America holding onto its guns. Newsome chafed at the inevitable, ‘we can stop this, why don’t we?’
Continue with the collectivity of grief: Why can’t we feel loss, together? Why do we put up cultural barriers to protect us from collectively grieving? By the time we get to the “our thoughts and prayers” cycle, the damage is done. We’ve lost the notion of a bigger family. We feel like paid mourners.
Our grief surrogates are in the news daily. Counter-poised to PTSD challenged student-victims, we are skirting “numbness.” Newsome, like government officials in every state, warns us about “numbness.” Well isn’t this like putting ‘lipstick on a pig?’ Let’s get real: it’s not ‘numbness,’ it’s acceptance. Acceptance that guns kill. Acceptance that America is dying. Acceptance that we do not defend democracy anymore.
Continue with our zero-sum history. “Our loss must be someone else’s gain.” Collective grief barrier building 101: “This is not going to happen to me,” so I go out and buy a gun. So easy to do. “This is not going to happen on my watch,” so let’s punish the “bad people.” So everyone can see. The zero-sum of loss-blindness.
America has traded collectively suffering loss for its obsession with gain. Not exclusively monetary gain, any gain:
Today, the zero-sum paradigm lingers as more than a story justifying an economic order; it also animates many people’s sense of who is an American, and whether more rights for other people will come at the expense of their own. It helped me understand our current moment when I learned that the zero sum was never solely material; it was also personal and social, shaping both colonists’ notions of themselves and the young nation’s ideas of citizenship and self-governance.
-Heather McGehee, The Sum of Us, p. 41
Last week America also marked the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder on the streets of Minneapolis. During court testimony at murderer Derek Chauvin’s trial, we heard from another girl friend, Courteney Ross, and witnessed another public display of loss. Like Sandra Garza… she was soliciting, not Senators, but jurors in deliberating the community’s loss, and hopefully delivering justice to a gasping nation.
Continue with removing dignity and respect. Some say, decency.
One can sense a barrier to suffering loss when the victim’s grief is qualified. Thus did the press frame Sandra Garza’s eloquence as emotion: “Brian Sicknick’s girl friend’s emotional response to a reporter’s question.”
George Floyd’s girl friend was less fortunate. The press filtered her eloquent moments through public shaming. “Like Mr. Floyd, Courteney Ross struggled with opioid addiction.”
A woman, a priest and friend, whose professional tasks include helping families navigate loss once reflected,
I really prefer (officiating at) funerals over weddings. At weddings, folks are happy and. goofy. At funerals, folks get real, start having real conversations with themselves.
This past week we witnessed two women-one suffering through an anniversary-struggling through tears, sharing their grief, collectively with family members and colleagues, so America could get real.
Questions seeking answers remain.