Sunday, August 14, 2005

I thought I would write about Cindy Sheehan and other grieving parents in the public eye. The sad truth is, every time a grieving parent is in the public eye, someone is trying to exploit them. That doesn't mean they don't have an agenda of their own (think of MADD), but that they don't get anything for free.

That said, having given myself some time, I am still appalled by the exploitation of Ms. Sheehan by those on all sides.

First, I'm not happy with those who are using her to promote an agenda -- for either side (either as a stalking horse or a free target). The one side should have more decency, the other hand should leave her out of things in their discussions.

Second, (in a very related way) I am offended by those who are using her as media fodder. The first group exploits directly, the second group exploits reactively. If you suffer grief, you may very well run into both kinds. The one seeks to turn you into a cypher, the second type seeks to make use of you as a cypher.

For those exploiting her, on the one hand they delight every time she is attacked. They revel in it. Every attack strengthens that group regardless of which side they are on (attacking or defending).

The second group feeds off of the attacks and makes them continue -- the term media circus has some real meaning in this instance, it is a circus. Either the second group is doing its best to help the first group, or the second group is exploiting Ms. Sheehan for their own benefit, or they are so clueless as to make one question their competence. Who sees any real analysis? Who sees any real kindness?

You will see the same thing in local news when a child dies of hard drugs or steroids in a high school and a parent speaks out.

Ask yourself.

If a thousand sons and daughters had died in Iraq (or perhaps 1853), leaving two thousand parents (drop some for orphans, add some for step parents) and only one of those parents acts out in what you consider a loopy fashion, should you conclude:

1) That one out of two thousand is a fully competent adult knowingly doing something crassly wrong who needs to be shamed and humiliated as an example for other grieving parents (I listened to a radio personality do just that, though when I called him on it, he backed off in a letter to me), or

2) They are suffering under the disability of grief and being exploited?

3) The person just wants media attention?

I suggest to you that if #1 is correct in the first half (a fully competent adult knowingly doing something), then people who say Cindy Sheehan is the most courageous woman in America and should be president may have something. If she is fully competent and knowing, then she may be right and she is definitely courageous. The more competent she is to face criticism, the more she acts from reason and knowledge rather than emotion and being exploited, the less she deserves any criticism.

If #2 is correct, attempts to shame them do nothing but feed and support those who are trying to use her to get attention -- and in a way that makes Sheehan look correct.

If #3 is right, any attention rewards them.

I think that public shaming attempts -- especially of a parent who has lost a child within the last year or so -- are useless, crass and exploitative, and do nothing but encourage those who would exploit the vulnerable. If the person just wants attention, it gives them the attention they crave in an atmosphere that provides them with enough positive voices that the public shaming attempt never reaches them and enables exploitation.

With each attack, the both sides are strengthened and those who have exploited Ms. Sheehan (if she is being propped up) are rewarded. Real dialogue, which this country needs, and real respect for death and loss and sacrifice, all of those are lost.

Now, as for someone who is exploiting a grieving parent, I think stringing someone along to make them a target for such public shaming attacks is evil and heartless. Drawing the poor family into things is sad.

I don't know Ms. Sheehan's heart and I've seen a lot on the war in Iraq to where I am unwilling to agree that she is correct or insist that she is wrong.

However, I can understand how she could believe as she does regardless if she has a noble or a crass purpose. I don't know how much of those feeding off of her, from both sides, raven like wolves attacking a wounded deer rather than are responsible for the wounding in the first place.

But I know that public shaming attempts against such a parent are useless, less than productive and shameful.

People who have buried children, when they make mistakes or act out in public, need first and foremost to be allowed space and quiet.

If her critics are truly right (if any of the critics of those in grief are right), what Ms. Sheehan needs and deserves is to be allowed her act in private.

If she is right, then what she really needs is people to make the issue about the dialogue and the concepts and thoughts and not about her.

Too often the grieving are exploited, by both sides (or all sides or any side) and then discarded. As human beings we deserve more both in the grieving and how we relate to it.

My two bits. I'll probably take this post down after a while, but I wanted to vent a little myself.

Post script:

I was asked which blogs I would condemn as exploiting Cindy Sheehan. None. I do not see blogs as significant in what is going on in her case, and I do believe that there is plenty of room to comment and review without exploitation.

Maybe if I read more blogs, but I don't see them as a factor in what is going on with this example or with most grieving parents (other than the fact that many of them do have blogs).


callieischatty said...

I disagree.

This crazy stuff has to stop.

What has come over people?
She may have been able to do some good if she had stuck to the issue.

Her crazy statements about the US and the President have turned most people, outside the Michael Moore I hate the US camp off.

I and many others admire the dignified way Bush has handled it.

Sarebear said...

Wow. Very well written. I stumbled across your blog, and I am so pleased that I did. LDS myself as well, it was so great to find a blog as thoughtfully written as yours, with links to many more. (I've scanned a few of them briefly and it looks like I've found a treasure trove of reading material).

I look forward to delving into your archives, and seeing what else you might have to say in the future.

I take it you are a lawyer? I'm kind of afraid of lawyers (but then, being bipolar and three different anxiety disorders, I'm kind of afraid of everything lol).

Anyway, it's great to read some intelligent writing (my in-laws are not really the intellectual types, no insult intended if they ever stumble across this comment woops my anxiety disorders are showing lol). Not that theirs isn't, it's just more personality-driven.

Sorry to go on so long, but I really thought this was a good post and that you should not take it down as you say that you might.

Sarebear said...

Woops. I forgot to ask if it was ok that I linked to your blog. I'm new to blogging and am not sure of the proper Etti Ket.

(If I ever get a cat, she's going to be named Etti . . . )

Anonymous said...

If it makes you feel any better, I have no idea who you're talking about. :)

Shekure Darashikoh said...

:)..Awww...Thanks! You have a pretty cool place here yourself.

Shekure Darashikoh said...

by the way, where did u read the review that commented on my website(blog). I'd like to read it:)

Stephen said... is where I read the comments on Saleha's blog.

UT Gay Boy said...

love your blog... check mine out if you get a second...

annegb said...

Good post, Stephen. This is so complicated.

When my son died, there were problems with the investigation the military did. I joined with other parents and we worked our butts off for years trying to make changes, some success, long story.

But one thing we learned and learned early: use the media. If we got media attention (and we did, in spades, uh, Larry King, 20/20, state news agencies, I was on the front page of a couple of newspapers, etc.), we got government attention.

The media is/are extremely powerful. I don't know Mrs. Sheehan's motives, but she's doing a smart thing getting this attention.

It wasn't fun, it felt like we were prostituting ourselves, but we meant business. The sad truth is that it's very hard to get by the military and we only accomplished a little. Just a little.

Now as I look back, it helped distract me from my grief and gave me a visible target for my anger at my son's death. Those poor military guys who I harangued! I guess they could take it and it got me through a few years.

I suspect, Stephen, she is using the media and those groups as much as they are using her. She wants the war stopped. In her deeper heart, she is expressing her rage and anguish. It won't hurt anybody.

Maybe the president will listen. I don't think we should pull out, I think we should pull out all the stops and kick butt and get this over with.

Also, I met some wonderful reporters, who cared and tried to help us as much as they could. They didn't have an agenda, we converted them. They're not all vultures.

Anonymous said...

You make it sound like Sheehan is some kind of victim. There is nothing complicated here. She is angry and she has created all the opportunities to exploit and be exploited

annegb said...

She did not create her son's death.

Anger is a real and normal emotion when you lose a child. So the liberals and/or the media are using her right now. Nobody is going to get anywhere in making real change happen. She's not accomplishing anything substantive.

Her son is not going to come back. George Bush is going to do what he wants to do. The reporters will move on to another story. And a few years will have passed which will help this woman deal with a terrible tragedy.

Nobody is being hurt by her protest. She is simply screaming to the heavens "My child is dead." She's placing the blame in the wrong place, but geez, cut her some slack. Leave her alone. If she has any smarts at all, she'll figure it out eventually.

And you know, George Bush's child is alive. I voted for him, I have his picture on my wall, I like him and I'd probably vote for him again. But it's easy for him to send out platitudes and be all dignified. His child is alive while he's sending so many American children to their deaths. He has no clue what he's talking about when he expresses his sympathy. I personally think it should be a law that a president cannot declare war unless his child is fighting in it.

I think when you lose a child, you are entitled to go a little crazy.

Lisa M. said...

Nice Post, Stephen. I appreciated the links.

A lot to ponder.

Bookslinger said...

Steven, the email address (of the pastor) that you left in a comment about sending books to the pastor in Nigeria appears to be associated with a scam.


Stephen said...

Oh well, too bad he really didn't want Book of Mormons.

annegb said...

I have to say: Cindy Sheehan is starting to get on my nerves. I'm not sure what it is, I didn't pay attention to her until this thread, really, but now there is something about her that bothers.

I'm beginning to pay attention to what she is saying and I can't see what she's really hoping to gain except attention and she appears to be reveling in it.

I know, I contradict myself...

Today my neighbor's six year old daughter, prone to excessive emotion, came home to find that her older brother, who was supposed to tend her, was late, his bus, I mean. She stood out on the edge of her yard and yelled and sobbed.

I finally went out to her and said, "what's the matter, Andrea?" Andrea: "nobody's home, I'm all alone, Andwew's bus is late and my mom had to take Alex to the doctor to see if he's gwoing." I gave her a big hug and said, "shut up. you're okay, come in and have a cookie and watch cartoons." And she was okay and she shut up and her mom came home soon.

I know shut up is a garbage word and I never allowed my kids to say it, but I find it's just so useful these days, it's just quicker than saying, "oh sweetie, hush now, dry your tears" and then you have to talk them out of it for ten more minutes. The president should have gone out, said, "shut up, have a cookie." and given her a hug. Then she would be on his side instead.

Up all night tonight. Wedding's driving me crazy. Rites of passage, Stephen.

Stephen said...

An interesting war blog. Has nothing to do with anything but the tactical level.