Thoughts on Thoughts and Prayers


The phrase, “thoughts and prayers”, has become a touchstone of controversy in recent years. The phrase has become repeated so often that the meaning is stretched thin. In modern society in which social media provides instant, ready knowledge of the trials and tribulations that face people to whom we are digitally interconnected, the phrase has become trite.

Diagnoses of cancer and other health maladies, deaths of family members or friends and other circumstances that bring the pain and suffering of others to mind often evoke responses that include thoughts and prayers. It’s a polite, but increasingly empty, thing to say. Particularly in response to all the offerings of thoughts and prayers in response to mass shootings in the last few years, a backlash has even arisen against the use of that phrase.

I assume the sentiment includes the implication that something needs to be done about the problem, and thoughts and prayers don’t get done whatever it is that needs to be done. One CNN article observed after the Parkland shooting, “Among the earnest pleas for social and legislative action, the aftermath of each successive shooting inspires more and more memes and cynical jokes.” (How ‘thoughts and prayers’ went from common condolence to cynical meme)

The point, with the mass shootings, which is well-taken, is that offering platitudes isn’t enough of a response to such a systemic, serious societal problem. “The further [the phrase, thoughts and prayers,] is embedded in our post-tragedy lexicon, the more it’s mocked as a form of civilian slacktivism….”

Of course, part of the problem is that we can’t agree on whatever it is that needs to be done. For as many cries there are for more legislation to limit guns, there are calls for more guns to arm law abiding citizens to combat the lawless ones. In that context, the critical, cynical snarky remarks about thoughts and prayers expresses one particular political persuasion that promotes tougher gun legislation.

When powerful politicians (who are in a position actually to “do something” about the problem) offer thoughts and prayers, while deflecting talk of gun controls and opposing attempts at more effective gun legislation, the phrase takes on a “form of political obfuscation” that sparks the ire of people who want change.

On the other hand, that cynical response often looks like a shotgun blast, implying (or assuming) that all people offering thoughts and prayers oppose gun legislation (and have no intention of doing anything about mas shootings). It conjures up the stereotype of the gun-toting religious conservative.

God, country and guns may be one characterization of a particular political platform, but it certainly doesn’t include all the people who offer thoughts and prayers. Not all “religious people” are of the same color. If we are going to heal and advance as a nation against the scourge of mass shootings that has scarred our societal landscape in the last several decades, we need to bridge the gaps between people of good will and stop burning bridges.

In fact, I suspect that our growing insensitivity, incivility and lack of respect for people who “don’t think like us” contributes to the socio-psychological environment that spawns mass murderers. I don’t think that connection is a leap, though I can hear the counter voice in my head accusing me of “blaming the victims”.

If there is one thing that is sacred in modern American society, it is victimhood. I know that’s a snarky comment itself, but let’s be real here. I am not blaming the people who got shot. They didn’t “deserve” to get shot.

We have to get past the binary political attitudes. We can’t get anything done that will affect a real societal change by objectifying, vilifying and pissing off half the population. We need to find common ground.

My hope is to start building a bridge with this piece by offering some thoughts on thoughts and prayers and suggesting some ways to work together, rather than against, each other. So, first my thoughts (and prayers).

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