November 17, 2016

When Our Inner Filters Fail and Our Thoughts Slip Out

Hindu funeral
Hindu funeral (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In our dealings with other people who might be described as less than close friends or loved ones (e.g., acquaintances, co-workers), we are generally expected to refrain from expressing what we are really thinking without first running it through various filters designed to reduce the likelihood of hurting someone else's feelings. There are many different words used to describe people who do not do this particularly well and who often say what they are thinking without filtering it. "Blunt" might be one of the kinder ones. "Insensitive" is another that readily comes to mind.

Although I can usually manage to censor myself appropriately and be reasonably diplomatic in my day-to-day interactions with others, I do slip up from time-to-time. This is most common when I am tired, stressed, frustrated, or hurried, but I must confess that there are occasions where something just slips out without any of these factors being present. And so I think that there is probably a consensus among those who interact with me on a daily basis that "blunt" is an apt descriptor.

I recently put my foot in my mouth, and I'm going to share the story because it relates to atheism. Well, I guess it is less about atheism per se and more about my suspicion that there is no life after death, no souls, no spirits, gods, ghosts, or anything of the sort. Moreover, I have a feeling that at least some of you will be able to relate to the thought that slipped out of my mouth before I could stop it.

A co-worker died a few months ago. He was not someone I knew well. I'd comfortably place him in the casual acquaintance category. While I saw him regularly over several years, I am reasonably confident I never had a conversation with him that lasted more than 10 minutes, and I probably ran into him outside of work twice. Aside from feeling like it would be strange because I barely knew him, I did not attend his funeral for two reasons. First, it was held in a Christian church. Second, I don't really see the point of funerals unless those attending derive some benefit (e.g., helping them grieve appropriately). In this case, I was quite confident that I could deal with the death on my own. And so...okay fine, I admit that there was another reason. I absolutely detest the over-the-top public displays of grief that I have seen at so many funerals. I feel bad for people who are grieving, and I want them to have the opportunity to do that if need be. I just don't want to be part of it.

So here I am at work, months after this guy's funeral. Out of the blue and in the middle of a conversation about something that had nothing to do with any of this, a co-worker abruptly asks me why I didn't go to the funeral. I was so caught off guard by the question that my inner filtering system failed me completely. I heard myself say something like, "I guess I didn't see the point, and since he's dead, I didn't think he'd mind." Despite the fact that this particular co-worker knew the deceased even less than I did, I couldn't help noticing her mouth hanging open in shock. I muttered something that sounded mildly apologetic and slunk away.

This co-worker, like most of them, is Christian. Of course she believes that the deceased is floating around out there somewhere and was likely disappointed that I did not attend his funeral. Moreover, she almost certainly thought that my absence was disrespectful in some way. I can live with all of that, as my days of going along with beliefs like this in an effort to fit in are behind me. But I still shouldn't have said what I said in that context. It would have been much better and still accurate to point out that we all deal with grief in different ways and that I simply opted not to attend. I didn't need to say anything more than that.
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