Timing Is Everything

In our current reality, we’ve gotten so used to having information right at our fingertips–we are in the Information Age, after all–but instant gratification isn’t always a good thing.

I can’t believe I just typed that sentence above and actually meant it.

As someone who used to hate waiting (and in some cases, still does), I completely understand the pull of wanting the information “now.”  We even tell ourselves we need the information now.  But honestly, unless the information is going to save you from sudden (or painful) death or dismemberment . . . you don’t really “need” it, period.  But the whole want versus need debate is for another blog.

Back to the topic at hand . . . some things take time before the answer/reason becomes fully clear and useful.  For instance, you can dismiss a caterpillar as just a fuzzy little inchworm that meanders along eating leaves.  And who knows how many times you’ve passed by one in its chrysalis stage, mistaking it for just another leaf on the vine.  But when it breaks out of the cocoon, ahhh, THEN you see a spectacular beauty that you would never have guessed came from the fuzzy little insect (Well, except for the fact that scientists have told us this, but work with me, people!)

Anyway, one particular area where I think the push for information “now” can be detrimental is when asking questions of someone who’s gone through a difficult time.  There are five stages of grief: Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; Acceptance (or seven, according to this site).  So when you ask how someone’s doing right after, say, the loss of a loved one, you should fully expect that their answer will not be a happy one.

However, we don’t seem to offer the same understanding to public figures.  This is especially true of the media, who–in their search to get the most attention and sound bites–will ask oftentimes inane questions that have no place being asked so quickly after a particular incident.

For instance, when a sports team loses a championship game, the media wants their several minutes to ask questions like “Why do you think you lost the game?” or “How do you feel about losing the game?”  And when a player responds as best as s/he can (LeBron James, for instance), s/he sometimes gets slammed for seeming down about the game, or that s/he can’t come up with more genuine responses.  Yet, if a player were to answer how s/he really feels (“It sucks that we lost,” or words to that effect) s/he is thought to be a sore loser.

And don’t get me started on the soundbites made by politicians right after a tragedy (Ben Carson and the Oregon Shooting, anybody?).  Believe me, I was just as appalled as many people when Dr. Carson seemed to imply that the victims of that horrific incident didn’t do enough to stop the shooter, but I also know that the media likes to take things out of context.  And, as someone pointed out to me, his comment can also be seen in another light; not that he’s shaming those for not doing more, just that he thinks he would have a different reaction.

Think about it for just a moment . . . to say that you would handle a situation differently than someone else is not necessarily implying that their way is wrong.  I’m sure we’ve all said something along the lines of “If I were in that situation, I’d have done [fill in blank].”  Whether or not Dr. Carson would actually have handled the shooting differently than the other victims did is something that hopefully he won’t ever have to find out (I personally think he’d be dead before he ever got his brain or mouth to finish thinking/speaking about his plan), but the real problem here is that the media wants to get immediate reactions from people so they can exploit such tragedies for as long as possible.

If people are given more time to reflect on a situation, their response(s) might be completely different.  LeBron might have gotten to the Acceptance stage of grief, and given a more upbeat interview where he actually believed it when he said “It’s unfortunate that we lost, but we’ve studied the tapes and have worked out a new plan of attack and we’re hopeful that we’ll do much better next year,” rather than dully reading the words from his cheat sheet.  And, while Dr. Carson might still have told us how he would’ve handled the situation differently–if asked the question months after the shooting–we as a nation might not have been so outraged, because we would have been given time to work through our own stages of grief.

So maybe we can all learn not to seek an immediate response to an event.  Give the situation time to settle down.  Give people space to deal with their pain.  Then maybe come to them after a little while and see how they’ve handled everything.  You might find they’re in a much healthier place emotionally, and able to discuss it better.


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