14 Nov 2017

RIP “Thoughts and Prayers”

R.I.P. “Thoughts and Prayers”

By Beth Archer/Spoken Word Consultant

Platitude joins “no comment” in list of phrases not to say

Delete the phrase “thoughts and prayers” from your repertoire of go-to sympathetic sayings. It has lost its meaning and no longer conveys what is most important: empathy.

It started losing steam a few years ago in social media discussions about the gun debate. Elected officials often tweeted (and many still do), “thoughts and prayers” for victims after a mass shooting.

However, after using the same phrase several times, it became as stale as candy corn on Christmas. Connecticut Congressman Chris Murphy is cited as one of the first elected officials to challenge the lack of diversity in empathetic expression, with Murphy tweeting in 2015, “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again.”

Those leaders that use “thoughts and prayers” are not unkind, devoid-of-feeling robots; they likely are in shock, as The Atlantic recently pointed. When we’re shocked and unable to think straight about an outrageous event, we default to words we use so often they flow without thinking – or feeling.

Without pausing as we tweet to allow ourselves to feel grief, our message loses our intent. We’re not able to communicate our compassion. We lost our authenticity.

I know it’s scary to allow ourselves to really feel our emotions in crises, as it often leads us to feel vulnerable and vulnerability is perceived as no-no for leaders.

What may be good advice for ensuring a job gets done, is not good advice for trying to connect with others. Be vulnerable. Allow yourself to express the emotions that are coming to mind during a crisis.
Is your heart broken? Say so. Are you sick to your stomach about it? Tweet that.

After the heart wrenching mass shooting in Las Vegas in October, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted, “To victims, families & loved ones affected by this senseless violence in Las Vegas, Karen & I are praying for you & offering our love…”

See what he did there? He tweeted what he actually felt. It’s authentic and empathetic and an example for all leaders to follow in times of tragedy.

Rest in peace, “thoughts and prayers”. We’ll put you right next to “no comment”.

Beth Archer is a Spoken Word consultant based in Texas. Connect with her on Twitter at @BethArch.