Speaking of the Dead

To begin with, this is probably going to be one of the more offensive things that I’ve ever said, even though I’m going to be referring to a person that most people who read this will never have met.  I’m also at no point in this post give the person’s actual name, I’m simply going to ask a question and give my thoughts about the answer to said question in this post.

The question is a fairly simple one, but one that never gets asked in polite company.  Why is it that when a person dies, no one ever says anything bad about them?

Allow me to give the context for this question.  Recently, someone who had been a fairly close friend of my parents passed away.  I knew quite a few people who thought that the deceased person was an asshole (myself included), there were even quite a few times when my parents agreed that the deceased was an asshole on a regular basis.  The last time that I saw the deceased I had been out shopping and they were in the same store.  I told my mom when I got home and I remember the conversation going something like this:

Me: “I ran into (person) at the store today.”

Mom: “I’m sorry to hear that.”

However, upon hearing that the person died, my mother said that it was really hard, even though she hadn’t seen him in years, and the fact that she had called him an asshole on numerous occasions.

I find it a little, dishonest is probably the best word, to suddenly revere someone just because they’re no longer with us.  When I was at bowling last week, the owner of the bowling alley made an announcement that the person had passed away (the person had been a bowler in the area for years and many people at the bowling alley knew the deceased).  I was respectful an honored the moment of silence that the owner of the bowling alley asked for, but then my first comment to one of the guys that I bowl with was that I knew the person (my friend didn’t) and that I thought he was an asshole.

At this point I find it interesting that I chose to title this post “Speaking of the Dead” because of how much it relates to Orson Scott Card’s book “Speaker of the Dead,” which is the second book in the Ender series.  (And no, I didn’t think of the similarity before I started writing this post.)

The title of Speaker for the Dead comes from a profession that Card invented for the book.  When a person dies, their family or community could call upon a Speaker for the Dead to interview them and then talk about their life, but not in the way that we do at funerals where we only talk about the good things that people do.

A Speaker for the Dead would discuss not only the good things that a person did, but also the bad.  They would be able to discuss both a person’s greatest virtues as well as their worst vices.  In short, they would be able to describe them as a real person, and not simply a cardboard cutout.

No one is perfect, and we all have our shortcomings.  But I’m also of the opinion that nearly everyone in the world has something they can contribute to other people.  And that if you really sit down and talk to someone, one on one, you can find something about them that you relate to.  But I think also think that whitewashing their lives just because they’re dead is dishonest and in many ways disrespectful to the person that they were.  None of us want to be remembered solely because of our worst moments, and I think it’s equally disingenuous to only remember the best about a person.

I don’t claim to be perfect, I have flaws just like everyone else, and like most people I aspire to get better.  Even posthumously, I don’t think it’s good to remember people only because of their good qualities.  Take the bad with the good and round out the person, I think in the end we’re all better off when seen as a real person and not simply as a composite of our best qualities.

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  1. There’s a decent chance I’m a terrible person for what I’m about to say. But, when it really comes down to it, I wear my opinions on my sleeve and I say if you didn’t like the person, then you aren’t under any obligation to like them after they die. I completely understand being respectful around others who did think the person was nice, but if someone asked me what I thought of the now deceased person my response would probably be, “He and I didn’t get along very well, and I didn’t like him very much.”

    Too many people are too concerned with saying the right thing at the right time in the right way. Just be considerate and honest, you’ll find life is a lot easier that way.

    In other news, you and I should trade some guest posts this year. I’ve read your blog for a long time now and have always thought it was quite good.

    • I agree with you completely, there’s no reason to sugar-coat a person’s life just because they’re dead, which is why I led my post with a bit of a disclaimer. That’s also why I tagged the post with politically incorrect, which is a tag I think I’ll use fairly often, because I tend to be a bit of a cynical and sarcastic asshole at times.

      Thanks for the compliment about my blog as well, those are always nice to hear. I’d be interested in trading a couple of guest posts, it sounds entertaining. Let me know what you had in mind and we’ll figure something out.


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