• Jon Matthews

On Grief

The Left is grieving, that much is clear. We might not be discussing a family death but the emotions of a defeat like this can be similar and the need to grieve is essential. It is important to remember, in this moment, that grief looks very different to different people. I very much expect to hear phrases like ‘sore loser’ and ‘get over it’ to be floating around this week - phrases you would never normally say to someone who is grieving. The biggest problem with grief, in general, is that you’re never allowed enough time to go through the process, there is always the need to go back to work, to look after the family or to vote in an urgent parliamentary debate about the latest Brexit bill. It never ends.

I took a few days off from social media after the election and went away, I was lucky enough to have that option. It gave me a bit of space to reflect, to grieve privately and to process things a bit. Upon my return, I was unsurprised to see a lot of anger, a lot of blame and a lot of hurt. These are typical actions of grieving people. I see people blaming Jeremy Corbyn; people blaming “stupid” working class voters; people blaming “corrupt” media outlets; people even blaming comedians and most disturbing of all I see people blaming the Jews (Twitter is toxic!). These angry outbursts might feel good in the short-term, people might feel like their opinion is justified but the current of angry, online vitriol will very easily sweep away our comradery and our credibility if we are not careful. To paraphrase Aristotle, anger is a normal human emotion we all experience but to be angry with the right people and channel it in the right way is incredibly difficult and something we should all strive for.

The digital, online, social media world makes fools of us all. We have a natural inclination to stand by our opinion once shared, even if we would otherwise change out mind. It is not the place for rational debate and reflection – which is why I will be posting this all over Facebook and Twitter, of course. Social media also blurs the lines between private and public, some things which are said and done behind drawn curtains are now discussed openly. This can be a very good thing, especially in terms of discussions around mental health. It can, however, also be very damaging. I don’t know how possible it is to go through the entire grieving process in a genuine and healthy manner in a public forum, especially when people are shouting at you. Nobody heckles a funeral procession (I hope). It is important for all us on the losing side of this battle to give ourselves the chance to grieve and to hide away from the world for a little while, if that is what is best for us.

Different cultures deal with grief differently. In Jewish funeral customs, space is created for each stage of the grieving process. The third stage, Shiva, is a time of quiet reflection where family members sit quietly. Mirrors in the house are covered (there should be no obligation to attend to personal grooming), curtains are drawn and lights are kept dim (to hide the lack of personal grooming). Friends will bring food and sit quietly with the family. No one is forced to talk about anything until they are ready, hours may pass in silence until someone decides to say something. It is time consuming; it is difficult but it works. The opportunity this creates allows people to grieve privately surrounded by people they trust is crucial to getting through the difficult moments.

I understand that people are angry but I have seen people post stuff that I’m sure they wouldn’t say if they were calmer. I have already seen people fall out over the election results and their reactions to it. Struggling to direct anger is a natural response to grief but it is the part of the grieving process that can have the most unpleasant aftereffects if not handled carefully. We all have lives to lead and your boss is very unlikely to give you a day off because of post-election grief. It is vital, however, to give yourself the time and space to grieve properly, to reflect and most important of all to get away from the anger, the bitterness and the arguments of social media.

In this difficult moment, take the time to look after yourself and to recover. The next fight will soon be upon us and we must stay unified, we must be ready. There will be questions to be answered, discussions to be had, lessons to be learnt but first let us give ourselves the space to grieve so when the moment arrives, we are better equipped to handle it with grace, dignity and objectivity, rather than blinded by grief fuelled anger. Give yourself time.


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