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Differences in Grief Expression

Dismissing thoughts and prayers is not a good political persuasion tactic.

Recent gun violence has brought gun regulation to the forefront of the national discussion. A regular tactic of many liberals has been to mock “thoughts and prayers.” However, “thoughts and prayers” and “gun violence” are two distinctly separate concepts, and to conflate them is to immediately shut down sensible discussions among all parties.

Belittling a portion of the population’s highest form of empathy and compassion immediately shuts down open discussion of issues and the credibility of a subsequent argument to be presented. It is the most direct form of visceral insult that can be hurled at a spiritual person. Many different religions pray, and it is the most sincere, most personal goodwill they can offer. Thoughts and prayers demonstrate that a person is thinking about an issue and cares about an issue—this increase in motivated thinking should be the first step towards persuasion (see Kunda, 1990). Telling someone that their grieving process is wrong, and that their thinking and their caring is useless will not result in persuasion.

Devaluing people for empathic concern, essentially dehumanizing them and delegitimizing their efforts, does not contribute to an issue-based solution. Insulting the people you hope to persuade will not help to influence others on important issues. Insults and intolerance for a different grieving process will engage counterargument processes, shut down critical thinking, and shut down the evaluation of argument quality (see Tormala & Petty, 2002). Be respectful of offered thoughts and prayers, and realize they are a window into a substantive discussion that you probably want to have on whatever the issue may be.

I will keep thinking about victims and the families of the perpetrators when violence occurs. I will continue to pray for their well-being and for peace to all involved in such incidents. Thoughts and prayers are not inactions—they demonstrate care, compassion, and the willingness to enact solutions. To mock and dismiss them is a very good way to shut down a discussion that is necessary. Disagreements may come in proposed strategies to solve a problem, but to fundamentally dismiss a form of grief and humanity of another group of people is cruel, discriminatory, and worse than inaction.

To raise the level of critical discourse in our nation, we must stop insulting each other, recognize goodwill and motivation to solve a problem where it exists, and engage each other in civil discussions of issues that affect all of us.


Kunda, Z. (1990). The case for motivated reasoning. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 480-498.

Tormala, Z. L., & Petty, R. E. (2002). What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger: The effects of resisting persuasion on attitude certainty. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1298-1313.