Life + Love, Life Stories

My thoughts and prayers after tragedy strikes are still perfectly valid

Yes, we need direct action. No, thoughts and prayers are not useless.

The last few weeks have been absolutely terrible for those of us in the U.S., and there is a renewed conversation around gun control measures as a result. There’s enough similarity to other shootings that have happened here to almost become a trope: a massive shooting happens, the country is horrified, politicians and concerned citizens offer their thoughts and prayers, and relatively few, if any, substantial changes are made to prevent another tragedy. Around and around it goes – the overwhelming circle of dread and suckiness.  It’s depressing and exhausting just to imagine.

Should there be more of a focus on policy change? Of course. Click To Tweet

In response to the Pulse shootings, however, there has been a pushback against the offerings of thoughts and prayers by those in governmental power.  A popular photo made its way across the internet, bearing the caption “#Pray Policy Change for America,”  and many took to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to express their frustrations with the lack of leadership and results around gun control, characterizing thoughts and prayers as a pitiful offering in the wake of so much bloodshed. They have a point – the Senate once again failed to confirm gun control legislation on the Monday morning after the attack.

We definitely need some policy work on gun control, and folks are justified in being angry. However, I am troubled by this harsh reaction against thoughts and prayers. Certainly, I believe that policy changes are absolutely necessary, but scapegoating thoughts and prayers to do so seems to be counterproductive and insulting, at best. With many folks in the USA ascribing to some form of belief in a higher power, and many others attributing thoughts and prayers to be a mechanism of coping with tragedy, it stands to reason that thoughts and prayers are not merely a feeble attempt to pacify or distract the crowds as leaders feverishly work to use this event for political gain. They are, perhaps, something more – the most human of responses to such an event.

They are, perhaps, something more - the most human of responses. Click To Tweet

Recognizing the gravity of the Pulse shootings was and is a visceral emotional process. Many folks are stunned, angered, saddened, shocked, and despairingly devastated. Ultimately, there are no words to adequately describe the horror of what happened, whether one is directly affected or not, and regardless of how many times this happens, no one immediately knows what to do about it.

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And so, we stop, and we think. Some of us pray, some of us send good energy into the world, and some meditate. Some just attempt to wrestle with emotions. Whatever way we choose to do that, we acknowledge that this tragedy, and the circumstances that led up to it, are simply too big for us to fully and completely comprehend. On an individual level, we cannot fix it, or even hope to understand it, and so we desperately try to create some meaning out of this situation (through religion or not) both for ourselves and our fellow humans who were affected by this. Sitting in that space, admitting our own powerlessness and shock, and offering our small perspectives to the universe may not be the most practical thing to do, but it just might be the most honest thing.

And so, we stop, and we think. Click To Tweet

Do some of us have the power to prevent another tragedy like this from happening, through policy or other means? Yes. Should there be more of a focus on policy change? Of course. But thoughts and prayers are not pathetic condolence prizes for not attaining that. Thoughts and prayers are not some leftover throwaway terms for saving political face. If anything, they are what unite us all as people sharing in this tragedy and doing the hard work of mourning and healing – and that is not something to be pitied or dismissed.

Dorie Goehring

Dorie Goehring

Dorie Goehring is an MDiv alum in Islam and Comparative Religion at Harvard Divinity School. A Junior Fellow at the Science, Religion, and Culture Program at Harvard and a former UN intern, she is passionate about the intersection of technology, policy, community organizing, and religion. In her spare time, she likes drinking tea, going on feminist rants, and engaging in nerdery.

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