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Acknowledging the Anger and Agony of Grieving Relatives

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05/15/05

I think that when a parent loses a child to war or a spouse loses a mate, the immediate and often most enduring reaction in addition to the shocked grieving is an anger that will express itself either at the reason for the loss or any suggestion that the loss was not justified.

We've seen nationally instances of grieving mothers and fathers driven to confront the Bushies at their conventions, speaking engagements and directly to the White House. The typifying example is the mom in Fahrenheit 9/11 who started out so proud of her family's military heritage and ended in horrible agony outside the White House.

The poorest method for how NOT to deal with a relative's grief -with one exception - has been repeatedly modeled by the President, his administration and politcal advisors. This both in terms of relatives angry at Bush as well as relatives in support.

We've also seen what happens when that anger is aimed at anything that questions the value of a soldier's death in war. These, I suspect, not only are best left alone, given individual respect, regard and space for their circumstance of agony - with only cautious attempts to reason or explain. They are too locked into an outrage that needs focus in some specific direction.

Angry relatives have the right of free expression which corresponds with our own. From our point of view we work to avoid the same kind of agony for any other soldier's families, avoid needless loss of life, that - as we see it - does not happen for a just and noble reason.

Which puts us immediately at risk of being perceived as diminishing the value of a soldier's life. It is an issue of semantics and context which are academic concepts that are useful but pale in comparison with the emotion and passion of family love, unity and sense of patriotic community with all citizens of the nation.

Yet, semantics and context, as a means of getting a vebal handle on the actuality of the war, of death and destruction and of the reasons why are at the heart of the emotion and passion of supporting or opposing that which will prolong the loss of lives. So we find ourselves on the short end trying to bring reason into an argument based on passion.

When you know your own comittment has not waivered it becomes a greater test of poise and reason on your part. You will readily discern the difference between an outraged emotional realtive and a self-appointed political heckler who has blended patriotism, politics and an affinity for America as the dominant global force. Both may - at any time in our activism - confront us.

The griveing relative may deliberately focus rage on something "outside" because you represent opposition to the accepted "inside" group which must cleave together in order to sustain a sense of worth and nobility for their soldier.

From my point of view our task is to not be stampeded by either and I think that one of our greatest personal worries is that we might be or feel stampeded into backing off our point of view and therefore failing our cause. It's never about failing our cause or looking good in front of an audience. It's about exercising our own right to speak our own mind.

Outspoken grieving realtives seem to subconsiously ache to tell SOMEBODY to shut the f*** up, to give SOMEBODY their comeuppance and to make SOMEBODY account for the loss.

Bless her heart, Janet Norwood, (who I assume was the parent at the State of the Union Address) received the ultimate satisfaction - if any is to be had - over the loss of her son: recognition by the President, the Congress and tens of millions of television viewers that her loss was tragic, her son's worth was immense and that his loss of life was noble. No one should ever be so foolish as to belittle that for the Norwoods. It is theirs to treasure.

However, to be fair, every relative whose soldier pays the ultimate price for our country deserves exactly the same kind of acknowledgment and consolation - something impossible to achieve and something Bushco knows it doesn't have to do.

From my perspective, grieving relatives are one volatile aspect of the risks in public activism that cannot be avoided. They may lash out for you or against you. If they lash out against you, I suppose they are entitled to do so. (Do we not agree when they lash out against the administration?)

It's not about justification, but about grief. If a grieving relative lashes out against you, you'll have to let them have their say. However, no one has a right to tell you that their loss is more significant to the country than the losses of others nor the future losses, the future agonies and the future second-guessing that will go on around the lives of those future casualties of war and their individual nobility.

Public activism is primarily about a voice of reason if speaking to a neutral or hostile audience. It may be about harranguing the choir at times when speaking to fellow activists.

Dealing with political hecklers, most of whom could not stand in front of an audience and make a persuasive presentation based on reason, is another matter. There may be hosts available to rescue you by removing a heckler (the Republican method) or you may find yourself in a battle to even continue your presentation. Ignoring the heckler may work if the audience is generally supportive of you and lets the heckler know it. Otherwise, the restoring of order might be left up to you.  

Dissenting questions from an audience are generally helpful but most effectively dealt with by the use of the now-famous "talking points" method. Write out for yourself the four or five primary points that support your position and memorize them until they are instinctive in your thought processes when in a public venue.

They will then come to your aid if you let them but you must be creative about how you redirect back to your talking points.

If you want to see a good example of poor, blind and stubborn use of talking points just watch Pres. Press Secretary Scott McLellan. Even with talking points he is the worst press secretary this country has seen. When in trouble, he simply repeats the same sentences he's already used and THAT sends a bigger message of retreat, connivance, deception and cowardice than any message he's trying to convey.

If it takes softball questions to keep or get you out of trouble, don't stand up in front of a crowd. You are not ready yet.

The typifying example is the mom in Fahrenheit 9/11 who started out so proud of her family's military heritage and ended in horrible agony outside the White House.
 
The poorest method for how NOT to deal with a parent's grief has been repeatedly modeled by the President, his administration and politcal advisors. This both in terms of parents angry at Bush as well as parents in support.
 
We've also seen what happens when that anger is aimed at anything that questions the value of a child's death in war. These, I suspect, not only are best left alone, given individual respect, regard and space for their circumstance of agony - with only cautious attempts to reason or explain. They are too locked into an outrage that needs focus in some specific direction.
 
Angry parents have the right of free expression which corresponds with our own. From our point of view we work to avoid the same kind of agony for any other soldier's parents, avoid needless loss of life, that - as we see it - does not happen for a just and noble reason.
 
Which puts us immediately at risk of being perceived as diminishing the value of a soldier's life.
 
It is an issue of semantics and context which are academic concepts that are useful but pale in comparison with the emotion and passion of family love, unity and sense of patriotic community with all citizens of the nation.
 
Yet, semantics and context, as a means of getting a vebal handle on the actuality of the war, of death and destruction and of the reasons why are at the heart of the emotion and passion of supporting or opposing that which will prolong the loss of lives.
 
So we find ourselves on the short end trying to bring reason into an argument based on passion. When you know your own comittment has not waivered it becomes a greater test of poise and reason on your part.
 
You will readily discern the difference between an outraged emotional parent and a self-appointed political heckler who has blended patriotism, politics and an affinity for America as the dominant global force. Both may - at any time in our activism - confront us.
 
The parent may deliberately focus rage on something "outside" because you represent opposition to the accepted "inside" group which must cleave together in order to sustain a sense of worth and nobility for their son or daughter.
 
From my point of view our task is to not be stampeded by either and I think that one of our greatest personal worries is that we might be or feel stampeded into backing off our point of view and therefore failing our cause.
 
It's never about failing our cause or looking good in front of an audience. It's about exercising our own right to speak our own mind. Outspoken grieving parents seem to subconsiously ache to tell SOMEBODY to shut the f*** up, to give SOMEBODY their comeuppance and to make SOMEBODY account for the loss.
 
Bless her heart, Janet Norwood, (who I assume was the parent at the State of the Union Address) received the ultimate satisfaction - if any is to be had - over the loss of her son: recognition by the President, the Congress and tens of millions of television viewers that her loss was tragic, her son's worth was immense and that his loss of life was noble. No one should ever be so foolish as to belittle that for the Norwoods. It is theirs to treasure.
 
However, to be fair, every parent whose child pays the ultimate price for our country deserves exactly the same kind of acknowledgment and consolation - something impossible to achieve and something Bushco knows it doesn't have to do.
 
So from my perspective, grieving parents are one volatile aspect of the risks in public activism that cannot be avoided. They may lash out for you or against you. If they lash out against you, I suppose they are entitled to do so. (Do we not agree when they lash out against the administration?) It's not about justification, but about grief.
 
If a grieving parent lashes out against you, you'll have to let them have their say. However, no angry grieving parent has a right to tell you that their loss is more significant to the country than the losses of other parents nor the future losses, the future agonies and the future second-guessing that will go on around the lives of those future casualties of war and their individual nobility.
 
Public activism is primarily about a voice of reason if speaking to a neutral or hostile audience. It's about harranguing the choir at times when speaking to fellow activists. 
 
Dealing with political hecklers, most of whom could not stand in front of an audience and make a persuasive presentation based on reason, is another matter. With angry rhetoric and narrow appeals to a narrow political view hecklers are just loud voices in a crowd.
 
Dissenting questions from an audience are generally helpful but most effectively dealt with by the use of the now-famous "talking points" method. Write out for yourself the four or five primary points that support your position and memorize them until they are instinctive in your thought processes when in a public venue.
 
They will then come to your aid if you let them but you must be creative about how you redirect back to your talking points.
 
If you want to see a good example of poor, blind and stubborn use of talking points just watch Pres. Press Secretary Scott McLellan. Even with talking points he is the worst press secretary this country has seen. When in trouble, he simply repeats the same sentences he's already used and THAT sends a bigger message of retreat, connivance, deception and cowardice than any message he's trying to convey.
 
If it takes softball questions to keep or get you out of trouble, don't stand up in front of a crowd. You are not ready yet.

Arthur Ruger 2005

Arthur & Lietta Ruger 2002-2008. The American Choice is a  political internet journal based in Bay Center, Washington. The views expressed not authored by Arthur or Lietta Ruger are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of The American Choice or SwanDeer Productions. Permission of author required for reprinting original material, and only requests for reprinting a specific item are considered.

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