I know this is going to come as a shock to you. After all, you were right there through it all last week—the horrific footage from the Boston Marathon, the super-sleuthing over the images of possible suspects, the heightening tension of the manhunt once the Brothers Tsarnaev were identified. You were getting updates on Facebook. You were following the action on Twitter. You felt as though you were right in the thick of things. Here’s the problem, though: You weren’t actually there.
Oh, sure, you were concerned as you went about your daily business, going to work, consuming meals, working out at the fitness club, shopping, picking up a latte at Dunkin. Your thoughts and prayers were with the people of Boston. You, however, weren’t. So unless, God forbid, you knew someone who was maimed or killed, or had friends or relatives affected by the shutdown of the city and environs, nothing that went on in Beantown really had any impact on you.
You’re fine! In terms of our long national nightmare, you were utterly irrelevant! Even though it seemed like you were right there beside the cops and FBI guys, what with the constant TV updates and the contradictory news reports and the social-media furor, you weren’t. Do you know what that means? There’s nothing in you to heal. You have no need for closure. You don’t have to seek out a grief counselor or therapist to help you cope with all the trauma you went through. In fact, even if you were maimed or injured, you might not want to seek out a grief counselor, since research shows they can actually impede the process of getting over whatever made you seek him or her out in the first place—and contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder, rather than alleviating it. Scientific studies say we’re much more resilient than we’re taught to think we are in this hypersensitive era. Though you’d never know that if you listened to the grief-counseling vultures, always ready to swoop in to the site of a school shooting or train wreck to tend to the affected—whether they need tending to or not. For a hair-raising look at the “bereavement industry” in the wake of 9/11, see this article from Reason magazine. Its conclusion: “One of the lessons from September 11th is that the clinician’s role in a shocked and heartbroken world is actually quite limited.”
Beyond the genuine harm that grief counseling can cause, there’s the matter of hubris. If we’re all equally affected by a calamity like what went on last week, what’s reserved for those who really were harmed? Who lost limbs, or loved ones? Who had to flee their homes, carrying their children, in the dead of night? Why can’t we shut up about ourselves long enough to grant them the dignity of acknowledging their suffering? Why do we have to “share” their grief when we’re really not sharing it at all?
The stiff upper lip with which the Greatest Generation greeted adversity has been much maligned, but science now proves what our parents and grandparents knew instinctively–not dwelling on tragedy is healthier than talking about it. So as tempting as it is to pore over the accounts of the bombings and their aftermath, when it comes to peace of mind, the best course for those of us who are only bystanders is to just move on.