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I was faced with the situation of honouring the death of someone I didn’t particularly like. The accident may have changed how he was viewed, but it didn’t change who he was.
A few years ago, I was involved with a small group of enthusiasts wherein I was part of an online rivalry that began because one of our group took a dislike to me for reasons that are still a mystery.
For a year and a half, I didn’t even know who this person was. We seemed to always miss connecting in person and since his profile picture didn’t show his face, I had no idea who to even look out for when I physically met with the group. I wasn’t the only member to whom this person took a dislike. He was obnoxious and looked down his nose at many.
As it was to transpire, this man had an accident, breaking his collarbone. People rallied. Flowers and cards were sent. Donations were arranged.
Soon after, he died. Actually, he committed suicide.
Again the troops were rallied. A guard of honour was arranged for his funeral. I was asked to join in. I was horrified. How could the people who, had as many reasons as I not to participate, be asking me to let it all go?
My refusal earned me a stern talking to from one of the elder statesmen. But resolutely, I stood my ground.
Was I wrong?
Authenticity. Was my touchstone throughout that period. I knew that any other approach to the situation would be, at best, disingenuous. At worst, I saw a part of myself dying should I accept the invitation to the lie. The Path into the ‘unexamined life’ was not one I was willing to tread. I didn’t judge the others for blindly following the tradition — or should that be ‘superstition’ — of not speaking ill of the dead.
I merely decided they had not adequately thought through the consequences of allowing their words and deeds to be governed by a dead man whom none of them really liked.
Epicurus, although not writing directly to this situation, wrote about judging the benefit —or pleasure — of an act against the pain required to gain the benefit. It’s a reasonably straightforward equation most times.
When this man died, and those we knew came out of the woodwork in his defence, I made the cost/benefit analysis. On one side was the ease with which I could, in my own eyes, lose my dignity and sense of self, versus the pain of having to look myself in the eye in the bathroom mirror. On one side was following an outdated social norm for the benefit of keeping up appearances for someone who was, genuinely, an arrogant prick.
Why should I, the one left living, take on the responsibility of assuring this man was ‘well-remembered’? I owed him nothing. I was a disinterested observer in his demise. I had many years left in which to live with the consequences of my actions. He, on the other hand, had nothing to gain from my support. He was as much on his own with the consequences of his actions, and I had next to nothing to gain from bending to his whim.
So, the next time a jerk dies, let them be dead. Weigh your own costs in supporting their cause, and remember, they’ll never know if you did. Or didn’t.