When you hear the expression thoughts and prayers do you see this as an attempt to give comfort? When people are experiencing tragic circumstances what should we say? The words seem harmless enough and well-intended but has the statement become too glib? Do the words give comfort and is it the right thing to say? The Urban Dictionary says that thoughts and prayers are ‘an expression of indifference to tragedy intending to seem empathetic.’
It is true that well-intended words do not always give the comfort intended. It was very evident when a woman, whose home was burnt to the ground, lashed out on camera after the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, offered his thoughts and prayers to those affected by the bush fires. I can understand why people experiencing such a magnitude of loss can see such a statement as shallow. It is an emotional time coming to terms with such devasting loss. Depression and anger are emotions that rise to the surface and cannot readily be placated.
Too many people in Australia have been affected by the drought and bush fires across the country in recent months. Homes and possessions have been lost. Smoke and dust are blanketing cities such as Brisbane and Sydney. I never thought I would see the vision of person, after person, walking around in Sydney wearing face masks. With the Australian clear blue skies and clean air, it was not a thought I contemplated. I was even smug when I saw visions of pollution in overseas countries believing this would never happen in Australia.
Even the bush fires in Pechey (a rural community 40 kms outside Toowoomba) and the Lockyer Valley created a smoke haze at our place. While sleeping at night I could smell the smoke and taste the dust. But my experiences are insignificant to those who lost their homes, their livelihoods and all their possessions.
Yesterday, thousands marched in Sydney because of the conditions experienced – water restrictions and smog. People are angry and they want more than just words from Australian leaders, they are demanding action to address climate change.
Whatever we believe as individuals our reality is that the air is polluted, creeks and rivers are running dry and towns are running out of water. If we do not get decent rainfall soon there will be a national emergency. In Australia migration continues but the harvesting and management of water in the driest nation on the earth is negligible. Something needs to change. As I said in an earlier article what would it be like if we had to line-up for drinking water. The thought is unimaginable, but is it possible?
Further to all the bush fire devastation Australians enjoying a cruise ship holiday were caught up in the devastating disaster of the Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. I noticed that the Prime Minister in his address to the nation regarding the circumstances did not offer his thoughts and prayers. He was careful when offering words of sympathy to the family and friends of loved ones who had been injured or died as a result of the volcanic eruption. I believe he did not want his words to come across as shallow, as though he did not care, but a genuine attempt to show compassion. But who can give comforting words at such a time that are not indifferent but make a real difference? It is not easy.
What words would I want to hear if I experienced the loss of my home or a loved one in either the bush fires or the volcanic eruption? The grief and loss are overwhelming. Yet, if I was in such a situation and a person said the words thoughts and prayers to me I would receive them as a genuine attempt to show empathy and concern. I would rather hear these words to comfort me in my grief, than silence.
My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have suffered as a result of the bush fires and the volcanic eruption in New Zealand. There is a time when as a bystander that is all I can offer.