As I get older, I learn that the old cliché rules of social etiquette are actually pretty valid. The first one I came to accept is “don’t discuss religion or politics in polite company”. (I’ll go into why that’s a good rule in a later post.)
And with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II last week, I realized there’s another important one: “Don’t speak ill of the dead”. For the purpose of this argument, I’m going to limit this rule to the time period between the death of the individual and their funeral. There’s a practical reason for this rule, and a more important spiritual reason.
Practically, it’s not a wise idea to antagonize people dealing with their grief. Grief puts the human mind in a perilously fragile emotional state. Dealing with grief is the most difficult situation humans find themselves in, and the overwhelming emotions can easily be diverted to easier to manage but more dangerous emotions like rage. It’s the whole “7 stages of grief” business. So picking a fight with the bereaved is unproductive. It makes them your enemy while doing nothing to advance your cause.
But more importantly, you need to have compassion. It’s a basic currency of human decency that you spend on others, in hopes that they will do the same when grief comes for you. Because grief comes for us all, king and servant, pop star and shopkeeper alike.
Now you may be filled with the growing need to rebut my argument with a ‘whatabout’ statement. I’m going to get you to pause for a moment and ask yourself this: why are you so determined to withhold some basic human decency? Any issue, any historical grievance you want to draw attention to will still be there after the funeral. No amount of anger right now will erase any of the past. But in refusing to hold a respectful silence for a few short days, you’re choosing to inflict hurt on people who are already wounded from the loss of a loved one. You do remember that, right? That in addition to being a ceremonial head of state, Elizabeth was a mother, and grandmother, and great grandmother. Let them have their sorrow.
I know it seems unfair that you have to show respect for someone who you think is responsible or representative of great evils inflicted on others. Sorry, but’s that the only way this works. Everybody gets space to grieve. Even the worst person in the world (to you) is loved by someone somewhere. It’s easy to show compassion and grace to people you’re sympathetic to. Compassion for your enemies is much, much harder.