These past few years have been rough for anyone who is sensitive and open. The amount of death, grief and violence that we hear in the news or watch on the media today is hard to cope with. Imagine a young child who just heard of the news about Gabby Petito or stumbled upon Squid Game on Netflix. That is a lot to deal with and it’s something they are not yet ready for. Join your hosts Jason Wrobel & Whitney Lauritsen as they talk about grief and violence and how they cope and respond to that. Learn how social media helped amplify all the negativity in the world today. Discover how to just be fortunate that you’re still alive and feel for those who have lost someone.
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Grief And Violence: How Society Responds And Copes
If you’ve been following us regularly, one thing you may notice is that I tend to read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies and TV shows, and certainly more than Jason. I’m curious, Jason, have you heard of this Netflix sensation show called the Squid Game?
I know nothing of what you speak.
It is a South Korean series on Netflix that I saw while browsing through. I was at my sister’s place and we’re looking for something to watch and nothing was inspiring us. I thought, “Look at this show. This looks interesting.” We watched a few minutes of it and it’s weird because Netflix automatically set it to English dub. You’re hearing English, but it’s not matching up with the actor’s mouth. That was a little strange. I was a little too lazy to switch it. Maybe that was part of the turnoff and we gave up on it.There's an anonymity around death that hits us in a different way. Click To Tweet
Either later that day or the next day, we decided to give it another try. We watched the first full episode. It was incredibly violent, so much so that my sister was deeply freaked out by it. I was observing how I wasn’t that disturbed. It was certainly making me feel squeamish. One thing I’ve thought about a number of times is how a lot of violent TV shows and movies, there’s so much out there that I almost feel numb to it.
At times, that feels disturbing. I’ve been trying to observe like, “Why am I watching something like this?” I wouldn’t say that I like it. If it was my preference, I wouldn’t want to see it. Certainly, I chose to watch it. It didn’t feel as disturbed as my sister. We stopped at that first episode. I thought, “It was disturbing but I’m very curious about what happens next.”
Now, I decided to watch a few more episodes on my own. I also looked it up briefly online. I’m trying not to see any spoilers, but it seems like it’s this big sensation. There’s a lot that I would like to read about it if I do finish the show but at this point, I’m going to wait and see if I do. It looks like I will. I’m not ready to read the spoilers. I’m not going to give any spoilers to you, Jason or anyone else. The biggest spoiler that I want to share is that it’s very violent.
The end of the first episode is like, “Wow. This is crazy, what’s happening.” It reminds me a bit of a moment in Game of Thrones, where something extreme happens and you’re so taken aback by it. There’s like a connection to some characters that take your breath away, but it’s also nuts when you see that type of violence and think about how accessible that is.
I imagine on Netflix, there are a lot of kids that watch without parental supervision. To see intense violence of this sort is disturbing on a lot of levels versus an adult who’s perhaps more mentally prepared to deal with it. My sister chose to say no and to stop it. That’s certainly something I’m reflecting on.
Having observed this show, it’s called the Squid Game. They explained this at the beginning. That name is based on I don’t know if it’s a Korean game. It’s nothing that I’m familiar with. You’re like, “I understand what they’re talking about.” The show is literally about a game that some adults play, circumstances they won’t fully mention, based on childhood games. The other big theme of the show in addition to violence is money.
After the third episode or maybe it was at the beginning of the fourth which I started watching, I was reflecting on like, “Maybe shows like this are meant as a deep social commentary.” I hope that that’s the point of the show. Sometimes when we’re shocked to that extent, we can step back and not only think about why we are shocked, offended or triggered but what is that trying to say about humanity?
For me, without giving a spoiler away, there was this moment of thinking how violence and money are often hand in hand. The show has themes of desperation, people doing unethical things in order to literally survive and get by financially. All of the people that are impacted by debt and how we can become so numb to other people suffering, as we’ve talked a lot about on the show because we’re trying to get by ourselves.
You know you get so immersed in a world and you’re going along with it. It isn’t until you step back and examine it that maybe you see a deeper meaning behind it. The show reminds me a bit of The Hunger Games. For those who haven’t or are going to choose not to watch the Squid Game, it’s got that almost dystopian feeling of crazy things happening to people. Some of them are not choosing these crazy things. Some of them are just the casualness of violence sometimes.Be fortunate to be alive and healthy. Don't spend your time cutting other people down. Click To Tweet
It got me thinking about how some people are very casual about death in general. I wonder why that is. I don’t feel that casual about it. In the past episodes, we’ve talked about things like compassion fade and compassion fatigue. I wonder if that’s playing a role in this too. Whereas I’m sitting there and watching all this violence happen on a TV show. On the surface level, it doesn’t seem to be bothering me that much almost as if I’m watching a news report about how many COVID deaths there are or some war-related death.
These things that we take in and we know that they’re sad. At the same time, we don’t go to this deep level sometimes of being disturbed by it. There’s a big difference between the fictional death versus real death that’s happening in the news. Also, there’s this crossover where people will sit and subject themselves to all these horrible media stories.
We talked about the case of Gabby Petito, which is interesting to be recording now. They found her body. We’ve confirmed that she’s no longer alive. We don’t know what happened, but her story has been all over social media and the news. I’ve often reflected on my obsession with it. At first, with this missing girl and maybe the mystery behind it, then the obsession with cracking the case and trying to figure out why she and other people have gone missing and have been involved in violent deaths, and how it’s almost like a form of entertainment. Many people subjecting themselves and getting immersed in death is a fascinating thing that I’m reflecting on.
I want to bring up a very real situation since we’re talking about violence and death in the real world. At about 5:36 AM, I was sleeping and heard three loud bangs. That’s not uncommon for the neighborhood in Los Angeles that I live in because people are setting off fireworks on a pretty consistent basis here. I thought nothing of it. It’s early Monday morning and someone’s setting off fireworks. It’s par for the course here.
I ended up waking up around 8:30 in the morning. That was about two and a half to three hours after I heard those bangs. I walked into my kitchen and about 50 feet or so from my kitchen window is an alleyway. I notice that there’s a pop-up tent set up in the alleyway. I thought that’s interesting. The kind of pop-up tent you would see at a food festival where people are serving. That large white pop-up tent with a metal frame.
I see people walking back and forth. There was a small gate in my alley where I can see into the alley. I thought, “This is bizarre. Why is there a pop-up tent and a bunch of people walking back and forth?” I stopped what I was doing. I was prepping breakfast. I put my shoes on and walked out the back sliding door to the alley. There was a guy standing right in front of my gate with his back turned. I thought, “Excuse me, what’s going on here?” It was a forensics guy.
He looks over at another guy. He gestures over and a detective walks up. I said, “Detective, what’s going on here?” I couldn’t see what was under the tent even though it was in the back of my gate. He said, “We suspect there was a homicide behind your house last night.” That’s not what you expect to hear first thing on a Monday morning making breakfast. My heart dropped immediately. I still don’t know that much. I haven’t gone back on Google. I asked him for details. I said, “Can you share any details with me?” He said, “We just arrived on the scene. We’re checking into it.”
From what I understand, it was a 36-year-old man. Someone saw an old U-Haul truck that spray-painted speed out of the alleyway. I don’t know who it was or why it happened, but a young man was shot to death 50 feet outside my kitchen window. It brings up an interesting feeling. You talk about the emotions that death engenders, whether it’s death that we’re viewing in media and entertainment or actual death.
I grew up in the city of Detroit. I didn’t live in horrifying neighborhoods but it was Detroit. I grew up in the ‘80s. It was the murder capital of the United States for most of the 1980s. I lived on the South Side of Chicago. I lived in the Bay Area. I lived in LA for fifteen years. I have never been that close to a murder. Someone was shot to death outside my kitchen window in the alley. That freaks me out for my own safety and it’s a sick feeling in my stomach for someone who lost their life. I’ve never been physically that close to that kind of death.
The neighbors left flowers out there. There’s a memorial out there with a cross, a Virgin Mary, and some flowers. It was kind for the neighbors to do that. When I walked through that alleyway, I get this deeply unsettling feeling. It was never a great place. It’s not like, “This is a beautiful alley.” Even more so, even when I think about it, I get a little bit nauseous. I was nauseous for about two days after this happened.
It’s an interesting thing because what it brings up for me is it’s almost like there’s an anonymousness around death that hits us in a different way. It’s an obvious statement than someone we know. I didn’t know who this young man was, this 36-year-old man. I don’t know why he was murdered or shot in my alley. I have no idea of any of the details. It’s a sick feeling because of the general loss of human life and that it’s so close to me and where I live.
Had it been someone I knew or even knew casually, let’s say a neighbor in the neighborhood, I’m sure that my emotional reaction would have been very different. It’s interesting when you bring up things like COVID or entertainment, or we read new stories about Gabby Petito. I don’t personally feel a deep sense of gravity because I didn’t know those people. It’s a strange thing to try and verbalize. It’s almost as if the anonymousness and the scope of death and violence that is happening on the planet, whether that’s genocide, natural disasters, COVID, there’s so much death happening right now, heart disease, cancer, etc.
To embrace the magnitude of it, psychologically at least for me, there’s a detachment. If I dwell too much on the totality and the magnitude of that kind of death and suffering on the planet, I feel like I want to curl up in a ball and shut off from the world completely. There’s almost like a level of detachment or compartmentalization around this. I’m wondering if you relate as a sensitive person because I know that I’m doing that. I know that I’m detaching because I will be overwhelmed by the feeling of horror and sadness if I go too deep into all that’s happening on a global level. Does that make sense?
Yes. That touches upon something else I wanted to bring up. I’m curious if you saw this, I don’t want to share too many details out of compassion for the person that posted this. Maybe this will ring a bell. Otherwise, I’ll do something behind the scenes so you can fully respond to it. Jason and I have multiple Instagram accounts. We have our own and I have two. Jason has his own, and then we have the @Wellevatr Instagram account.With what is happening in the world, is world peace even achievable? Click To Tweet
The two of us manage it together. We both post things on there and we both will follow people from time to time. You must have followed this person because I believe it’s someone you’re connected to. You might’ve done a project with them. This person posted something. I was very triggered by it. It was about COVID. I couldn’t fully tell what the point of this was, but it was making light of COVID and/or saying it in a combative way or a way that felt like it was creating division.
I won’t say the exact words again to protect this person but it was something around like, “I know about COVID being risky.” I saw this post and I went immediately went to this person’s account and I was like, “Who posted this and why are we following them?” I saw who this person was. I was like, “This is probably one of Jason’s contacts.” I almost messaged you about it. My gut was to go and follow this person but then I thought, “I’m going to step back and I’ll deal with it later,” then I forgot about it.
I went on our account again and this person posted a bit of an apology about this. The apology was beautifully written and it was acknowledging this person’s flaws and their difference in thinking and all the reactions that they got. I looked at all of the comments and I got very triggered by this because I saw how divided people were in the comments. I saw people writing things like, “How dare you to post something like this when people are dying? This is so insensitive.”
Other people going, “I have the right to choose.” All these people agreeing, “I can totally relate.” In the newer post, people were saying like, “You don’t need to apologize for something like this. You need to stand your ground. These people are just overreacting.” It got into all the different extremes on COVID. “The people that are offended must be the sheeple who are following the mass media,” and all of this argument. I left this feeling sad like, “We cannot get along.”
I had this feeling of we are so fortunate to be alive and healthy, and yet people are spending their time cutting each other down. As we know on the show being focused on mental health, suffering, that type of division, cruelty, verbal bullying and shaming, all of that can be so horrific. Whether somebody is suffering silently or suffering publicly, or suffering so much that they decide to do something drastic in their own lives is heartbreaking.
My bigger point is we are all collectively going through a pandemic. People are having such extreme reactions. At the core, the pandemic is sad and full of physical suffering. On top of that, there’s this added layer of cruelty to one another amongst a hard time. This comes up in the show, the Squid Game, just to tie it back in. There’s another moment in the show. It was probably in the 3rd or 4th episode. The show is based on something very violent. If you’ve ever seen The Hunger Games, it’s similar in that sense where some extreme things happen to a collective group of people.
That’s partially their choice and they went in very ignorantly and ended up in this situation that they weren’t intending. You’re seeing this group of people who are extremely disturbed about what’s happening to them and around them but it’s an external thing. Somebody is doing it to them and to a great extent, they don’t have control over it.
You would think that a group of people who are collectively going through a hard time that they don’t feel like they have control over would come together to unify. In this 3rd or 4th episode, you see them start to group off and start to fight within themselves. Horrific things are happening on the outside and on the inside because these people can’t get along.
There’s this moment in the show where something innocent happens. This I can share. They’re all eating together and one person goes and gets extra food, which causes inadvertently somebody else to miss out on eating. The person that didn’t get to eat approaches one of the people that had seconds and was like, “How dare you take away my food? This isn’t fair.” They start to fight. It’s the simple thing, this basic human need that they have to eat food, yet somebody else feels entitled enough to take more.Only 8% of the recorded history of the world has been without war. Click To Tweet
On some level, that’s how I felt about that post on Instagram. It’s like the entitlement that goes into someone saying, “I’m fine from COVID. I’m good. There were ‘risks’ happening but I’m okay.” You can see why people in the comments are offended by them. You have the privilege of being okay during COVID. You may have the privilege of not even having a loved one who is physically affected by COVID. You’re going to go around posting on social media, where you have influence in this almost like ignorant privilege perspective, while a lot of people in the audience have been affected. They’re suffering and they’re feeling like, “You’re not even going to acknowledge my suffering because it’s self-serving for you to be posting something like this because you have an agenda here.”
We see a lot of these things playing out in society. I’m contemplating it. It’s like, “What do you do when you’re witnessing these things?” There’s this part of me that’s like, “I could unfollow this person on Instagram but what’s that going to do?” It’s not going to change them. I’m just going to ignore it. I could choose not to watch the news but it doesn’t mean that horrific things stop happening. Do I face them head-on and do I become a bigger activist? How do you do all that?
I know this is something you can talk about. Each of us may be holding onto a lot of our own internal suffering or dealing with a lot of our internal suffering to add on the layers of other people, and the anger or the triggers or the sadness that we may feel from other people’s actions. You can start to see why compassion fade and fatigue happens. Also, why people stand back and watch because maybe they don’t have the emotional capacity to do anything.? Maybe they feel completely helpless. We’re witnessing a lot of that. Maybe that’s part of the human experience or it’s a reflection of why a society may crumble. We don’t have the bandwidth to manage all of these horrific things that are constantly happening around us and people’s reactions to them.
What’s happening is nothing new in terms of the challenges to interrelate, cooperate, share and understand one another. If anything, technology, social media, smartphones have intensified and magnified the apparent divisions and differences of opinion. Alex Ebert calls it sovereign siloed realities, “Your reality isn’t my reality. My reality is this, COVID can’t touch me. I’m immune to COVID,” or whatever it is.
What I will sit in and contemplate sometimes is whether or not it is even achievable for something like world peace to happen, whether or not it’s feasible for us to unite as Americans. We live in the United States of America, or as a global population. This pandemic has shown us pockets of unity but more so, it’s shown us the cracks and fissures in culture and human society in general.
The reason that I questioned whether or not actual global cooperation could happen or whether or not world peace is even a thing that’s achievable ever is there was a compendium called The Lessons Of History, written by Will and Ariel Durant. They did some historical research and they found that in the 3,421 years of recorded history as we know it as humanity, there have been only 268 scattered years without war on the planet. That’s 8% of human recorded history. Think about that for a second. It’s horrifying on many levels to think about but not surprising.
If you think about our lifetimes, there’s been near constant war somewhere on the planet. Maybe not that the United States has been involved. We could talk about shadow operations and CIA, and the things that the US has been involved in. If we’re talking about like countries at war or juntas or overtaking military operations or whatever it is, that’s been constant for decades.
It does make me question, what are the underlying attitudes and points of view and perspectives that are driving our seemingly inexhaustible need to kill each other, overthrow each other, and try to control one another? We can all agree that this is a deep thing that has been a concerning flaw in the human psyche. “You have something I want, be it land and resources. You’re not going to give it to me so I’m going to take it from you through force. Let’s not talk about sharing or dividing up resources. I want what you have. You won’t give it to me willingly so I will exert violence upon you.”
This is not a new concept. We’re doing it now for rare earth minerals, water, farmland and oil. People are being murdered and overthrown and destroyed for resources. This is happening. What is behind the greed and the cruelty and the otherness? Part of it is if we get into the isms of racism, speciesism, sexism, it’s a separation of, “You are less than I am as a being. Therefore, I have the right and the manifested destiny to take what I want from you, even if that’s your own life because you’re less than I am.”
It’s a dehumanization. It’s a devaluation of another being’s life for their flesh, milk, resources or oil. It’s like, what is that? I sit and I think, where does that come from in the human psyche that we think it’s okay to do that? Not just okay to do that, but on a global level, continue to perpetuate it. Eight percent of recorded history has been without war.
I don’t know. I’m not somebody who studies that history and understands a lot of this, it doesn’t make sense to me. It also reminds me of the reflections I’ve heard. I have a few friends, my mother, my sister, and watching other people online respond to Gabby Petito’s case, which evokes so much fascination. I learned that 600,000 people go missing in the US alone every year, approximately. It shifts around but that’s the average, which is beyond comprehension to me.
I shared that metric. Some people even responded, “Most of those people are found.” Yes but still it’s a horrific number. Why do we justify it or minimize it by saying these weird responses? There’s also this fascinating element of like, “Why are we focused on 1 of those 600,000 people?” This happens so frequently. We hone in on one example or one case. There might be some psychology to dive into. I’m sure people will publish some data around or their own observations on why this specific case has captured the interest.
One of the things that I’m hearing right now from people in my life who have been following the story is they want to know what the motive was. If it was indeed Gabby’s fiance, Brian, who did this, people are interested in finding out why. They know for sure, according to the autopsy reports that this woman was murdered. It doesn’t even matter who it was on some level. The big question is, why did they do it?When you're afraid of loss, you cling to a system of right and wrong of well and unwell to safeguard your connections. Click To Tweet
There are other mysteries. Some of these missing people too who we have no data around and they’re cold cases. People will try for years to figure these things out. We have whole documentary series about these types of cases. Sometimes they’re solved 30 years later. Sometimes they’re never solved. I stepped back and wonder the same thing like, why do people do these things? The serial murders and it’s like somebody who is so deranged that they have to do this to multiple people over and over again.
Yet they’re so intelligent like Ted Bundy. The intelligence behind this man to figure out how to hide for so long and how to keep doing it. Even with Brian Laundrie who was Gabby’s fiancé, they haven’t been able to find him. Everybody’s like, “How is this man getting away with this?” They haven’t even been able to locate this man. In that story, part of the fascination for me is that you can get away with these things. It becomes easy. Sometimes it becomes normalized. You recognize all the flaws in our system.
That becomes scary too. In my head, I’m thinking, “Nobody’s going to do this because they wouldn’t get away with it.” It’s even more heartbreaking when it’s supposedly somebody who was in this loving relationship with someone else. You hear these stories of romantic partners and married couples or even children that are impacted by these things. It can become so deeply disturbing.
To pivot into a different way of looking at these things, I have been reading this book. It’s a beautiful book about grief and it’s called It’s OK That You’re Not OK. It is incredibly beautifully written. It’s by a woman whose husband drowned. She’s writing this whole book about mostly what she’s learned from that experience. The subtitle of the book is Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.
One of the big points of this book is how other people react to grief. The whole psychological reaction that our society collectively has and how maybe we brush things aside. We want to rush through them. We make it seem like it’s so easy. We don’t acknowledge that each individual has a different reaction to the grief. This book is mainly about individual experiences of grief from what I’ve read thus far. In many ways, it also applies to the collective grief we feel even when somebody else passes away.
In fact, I did have a quote in here that gave me some perspective on the Gabby Petito case, especially my own reactions to it, but how other people were reacting. I ended up posting some things on TikTok because I realized that I was in the Grand Teton National Park around the same time that reportedly Brian Laundrie was and supposedly Gabby Petito, whether she was alive or not. Her body was there, whether she was alive or not. She was there at the same time I was and there were reports of Brian being near the areas that I was.
I was so disturbed by that. I felt a bit of survivor’s guilt of like here I was enjoying this park in complete ignorance over the fact that somebody else was suffering or being tortured or whatever was happening there. Also, this fear within me that there can be awful people right around you, and you may never know.
There was one particular experience where I heard this woman picked up Brian because he was hitchhiking. She dropped him off in this area that I went to 90 minutes later. It was this eerie feeling of knowing that I was near this man that has now become this national or maybe international focus, and helplessness. I know I wasn’t impacted. Again, there’s survivor’s guilt.
Maybe it was an isolated incident, but who’s to say that this man hasn’t hurt other people? We don’t know that yet. This other question of like, “If he could do it, how many other people was I around that were doing awful things? How many things go completely undiscovered? How many people are suffering from abuse, emotional or physical, but they still live through it?”
It can feel incredibly dark when you’re confronted with those experiences. That led me to make some TikTok videos. One of the things that were challenging was how many people were shaming me for posting about my experiences and my feelings. How many people were trying to gaslight me into thinking that I was only posting about it to get clout, which certainly was not anywhere in my consciousness. I had to step back and think, “Am I doing it for that reason?” I don’t know. I was reading this book. This touches upon something that we discussed in another episode about spiritual bypassing. This book is fantastic.
Specifically, when we are confronted with a horrifying or traumatic situation where we’re like, “No, it’s all good. I’m fine. It’s just what happens.” That kind of bypassing?
How we tend to want to make everything positive and talk about the silver lining or everything’s happened for a reason, how we often avoid pain. There was a section in here that in essence was addressing the fact that it is natural for people to react in a way of sadness, even when we’re not impacted directly.
By seeing what somebody else goes through, we’re reminded that that could happen to us too. That starts to impact our feelings of safety. That’s part of the reason that being too positive about things and constantly talking about the silver linings doesn’t address at the core that some of us feel incredibly powerless and unacknowledged. We can start to become very disconnected.
One section here is about, “When we’re afraid of loss, we cling to a system of right and wrong, of well and unwell to safeguard our connections to those we love. We think barricading ourselves against pain and suffering will help us survive. We defend ourselves against losing it but in doing so, we keep ourselves from living it. The tricky thing is true survival never exist in a world where we have to lie about our own hearts or pretend we’re in more control than we are. It just makes us desperately more anxious and more rabid in our attempts to make everything work out in the end.
“Finding safety means to come together with open hearts and a willing curiosity about everything we experience, love, joy, optimism, fear, loss and heartbreak. When there’s nothing we can’t answer with love and connection, we have safety that can’t be taken away by the external forces of the world. It won’t keep us from our loss, but it will let us feel held and supported inside what cannot be made right. The real cutting edge of growth and development is in hurting with each other. It is in companionship, not correction. Acknowledgement, being seen and heard and witnessed inside the truth about one’s own life is the only real medicine of grief.”
I don’t think that was the section specifically that reminded me of the Gabby Petito stuff. In a way, it did because it is about connecting. That’s why I’ve been drawn to the Gabby Petito case. It’s because I feel a connection to other people who are impacted by it. I don’t know if you looked at the chat, but I sent you those Instagram posts I was talking about.
I’m curious if you feel called to respond to them without calling out the person. Maybe the reason I felt so triggered was that it did feel like it was about making COVID a this versus that, a right versus wrong, a good versus bad situation. It’s the division I talked about. That makes me feel disconnected from others versus what I’m yearning for in these times of grief and global sadness. I want to feel connected to others. I want to feel accepted by others and respected by them. I don’t want them to shame me out of my response to a horrible situation.
I feel like there’s a massive amount of shaming, judgment, ridicule on all sides of this. I wonder what this person’s intention was. I’m going to read the post without naming the person.
Speaking of shame, if you do, it’s easy to find who wrote it and I don’t want to participate in shaming this person. I’m okay with us discussing it but if you share it, I think that could lead to any of our audience going and finding out who posted it. If they haven’t by now, they’d probably put the clues together. If that person follows our show, my intention is not to shame them whatsoever. My intention is to discuss how I responded to it. Does that make sense?
They compared COVID to eating a dessert. I would think that this person was attempting to be funny and it didn’t land for a lot of people. That is part of it. There’s a massive amount of pressure for a lot of people to pick a side. I see a lot of pressure from a lot of people to “be on the right side of history.” That’s a phrase that I keep seeing thrown around. You need to be on the right side of history. It’s coming from both sides.
Personally, some people might disagree like, “You’ve chosen a side, Jason.” I don’t feel like I am in one camp or another. Hopefully, that comes through on this show and all of the previous episodes where we’ve discussed all of the nuances, intricacies and confusion around COVID. My point is I’m giving this human being the benefit of the doubt and thinking they did this to try and get a giggle out of people. Certainly, people’s reaction to it was, “You’re treating a very serious situation with too much levity.”
This brings up a larger point. I don’t want to focus on the division too much of this, of people acting like either COVID isn’t real, COVID deniers or COVID isn’t “as bad” as they say it is. I want to highlight that what this brings up for me is something totally different. What it brings up for me is I’ve talked to comedian friends over COVID about this particular thing, with the division, with the prevalence, and continued momentum of cancel culture, and how incredibly sensitive and wounded people are right now.
A lot of people who make their living doing some form of comedy or social commentary feel like, “What the fuck can I say? It’s almost like if I even attempt humor around it or bring even a modicum of levity, the vultures were come and tear me to shreds.” I have to agree with that to a degree. Comedy is tough. I’m going to be the first to say that, especially when you’re talking about death, murder, loss, pandemic, it’s not easy to frame comedy around things that are very horrifying.
I have found though that sometimes in my healing process, depending on the situation, it can be healing to bring some lightness, comedy and perspective to a situation. However, there are a lot of nuances in this. The delivery of it, the phrasing of how you say things, who you’re saying it to, who’s the room. There’s always that thing, “Read the room.” I don’t think she read the room well.
My point is that in the midst of horror, division, loss, pain, confusion, it’s a fucking heavy time to be on planet Earth. I don’t think anybody can deny that. All due respect to anyone who’s like, “I had a great pandemic.” Kudos to you. For people who are open and sensitive and feeling beings, it is heavy to be alive. There is a role of comedy and levity but it’s challenging to do it. If you slip up or people misinterpret what you’re trying to do, they will tear you to shreds. I believe that’s what happened here. I don’t believe she was trying to create more division per se. I believe maybe the intent was to get a chuckle at the comparison. It’s tough to bring light and comedy to the situation. There have been some ideas I had for videos that I’m like, “This would be” and I’m like, “Don’t do it.”
Here’s why I haven’t brought some levity or comedy with some of the ideas I’ve had. I don’t want to deal with the energy of what I’m going to receive that will consume days of my life of getting flamed on by people. I don’t want to deal with the energy. I have other things I want to focus on in my life than dealing with being flamed on by people. People will be like, “That’s the antithesis of courage. You should just speak your voice.” No, I don’t want to deal with people’s bullshit. I’m pretty tired of dealing with people’s bullshit. By putting certain things out, if it’s not received well, you’re going to have a whole lot of bullshit to deal with.
One thing I’ve noticed from this person’s post on Instagram, as well as what I posted on TikTok about Gabby Petito and being in the Grand Tetons at the time, I had people saying all sorts of weird things to me and accusing me of posting the videos to capture views. I know for sure, that was never my intention. It never once did it even occur to me that a lot of people would see. One of my videos got over one million views and I ended up making it private because what I was posting was misinterpreted by enough people that it felt that could have gotten in the way of more important content around the case.
I thought as interested as the people were in this video that I posted, it’s not helping. I need to take it down because I don’t want to hurt. Part of your point too is that fine line between posting something innocently and it being misinterpreted to the point where people may be hurt by it. That’s why this person was wise in posting the apology. It helped me understand them and their thought process more.
What disturbed me was the reaction in the comments. The comments are on both sides. Maybe half and half, but also potentially more people being supportive of these posts than against them. Granted that maybe a lot of people unfollowed this person. I’m not sure. Some of them might have stuck around like I did or we did because it was our shared account. It was the range of responses. When you’re saying these things of not wanting to deal with the BS, you may get a huge variety of them. This is something that both of us have experienced in our online careers. Sometimes you’re going to be polarizing, even if you don’t intend to be.
That’s tricky for me because I would rather be a little bit more even or have a high percentage of people liking what I do versus not liking it. I don’t want that 50/50 because like many people, I will focus much more on the criticism and the anger than I will on the positivity. That’s a hard thing to get over. It sounds like you struggle with that too, Jason, because dealing with all the people calling you out and trying to cancel you is tough. There are plenty of examples of big influential people being called out and dragged and somehow, they’re moving through it and continuing on with their careers.
Another thing I’ve been watching is the show about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. I’m watching and thinking, “Wow.” I remember growing up thinking Bill Clinton was a cool president. I had no idea what was going on. I knew about the Monica Lewinsky stuff but I did not know how many women he supposedly was fooling around with. That’s a bit separate from politics. It still makes me feel a bit icky. I knew about JFK and a lot of people’s stories of similar things happening with him. I also remember growing up thinking JFK was a pretty cool president.
Some people can do some things that ethically do not agree with us, but other things that may ultimately make us feel okay. I also think it shows that we are very complex. We’re not defined by decisions that we make that don’t please everyone. Part of the post that this person on Instagram articulated nicely is they acknowledged that they will continue to make mistakes and do things that upset people. Not like, “I’m going to do this despite you.” It’s, “I’m a human being that makes mistakes. I’m not going to try to act as if I will never do it again.” When some people apologize, they try to make it seem like, “Don’t worry, that’ll never happen.” You could not possibly know that about yourself, because even well-intentioned people miss the mark.
I did find this section of It’s OK That You’re Not OK that ties into this because the title of the section is Victim Shaming in The Culture of Blame. “It soothes our brains in some way to believe that through our own good sense, we and all that we love can be kept safe. If something bad did happen through no fault of our own, we’d be strong enough to handle it. Brené Brown’s research states that blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort. Intense grief is a reminder that our lives here are tenuous at best.
“Evidence of someone else’s nightmare is proof that we could be next. That’s seriously uncomfortable evidence. We have to do some fancy footwork or rather a fancy brainwork to minimize our discomfort and maintain our sense of safety. When someone comes to you in your pain and says, ‘I can’t even imagine,’ the truth is they can imagine. Their brains automatically began to imagine.
“Seeing someone in pain touches off a reaction in us. That reaction makes us very uncomfortable, faced with this visceral knowledge that we too could be in a similar situation. How quick we are to move into the debate rather than hang out in the actual pain of the situation? At the root of our fears around grief and our approaches to grief and loss is a fear of connection.
“A fear of acknowledging, really feeling our relatedness. What happens to one person can happen to anyone. We see ourselves reflected in another person’s pain. We don’t like to see ourselves there. Disasters and death bring out a level of emotional empathy that asked you to go there and to acknowledge that this could happen to you or someone you love, no matter how safe you try to be. We hate to see evidence of the fact that it is very little in this life over which we have control.”
With that, I wonder not only does that explain the obsession that some people have over stories like Gabby Petito, which perhaps we’re trying to soothe ourselves from the discomfort of seeing a seemingly innocent young woman go through something so horrific. That’s why I posted my videos on TikTok. What I believe I was trying to express but perhaps didn’t have the words to at the time was it was creepy to look back and see myself in the exact same place that this woman was, and almost feel like I’m lucky that I got out alive.
Also, to have that survivor’s guilt of like, “Why did I get to come out of a park alive and she didn’t? How do I manage to get through my life and not go missing like 600,000 other people in this country every year? How am I able to make it through COVID without getting sick?” There’s that discomfort. COVID has brought it so close to home. Perhaps, that’s why people post things like this. It’s because it feels better to say things that either make light of it but also say like, “Look at me, I’ve made it through. Everything’s okay.” The reason that misses the mark is that just because you’re okay, doesn’t mean that someone else is. That’s why that triggered me and others so much. It’s like, “Who are you to make light out of something that’s hurtful to others?”
Comedy sometimes can be a trauma response. There have been situations in my life where it’s been overwhelming and horrifying that I spontaneously started laughing at it. In a way, it was a coping mechanism. My body started voluntarily laughing. I would love to look at the research of this like laughing at horrible things. To me, my personal experience has been almost a compensation mechanism. This is so crazy. Does that make any sense?
It’s almost like this spontaneous fit of laughter. Not because you find the situation funny but because it’s almost like an instantaneous visceral reaction to the thing you’re observing. If you don’t laugh, you’ll feel completely overwhelmed by it. I don’t know if that was her intent here. Many months into this, people are trying to cope in different ways. Maybe laughing at it or making light of it is one way that they’re trying to cope with the horror.
The reason I’m saying that is I wonder if people who are taking an energetic stance of, “COVID is not that bad. Let us live our lives.” Whatever that is. I’m not shaming those people for that perspective. I wonder if that’s a compensatory mechanism that they’re not allowing themselves to feel the full horror, terror, confusion, loss of control. By saying, “It’s not that bad, it’s not going to touch me,” that’s their way of maintaining control and certainty. It’s a guess.
It wouldn’t surprise me. One thing that comes up for me and one of the reasons that I’m reading this book that I shared is that I want to better understand how to handle my own grief but others as well. There have been many times where somebody has shared something that they’re struggling with and I freeze up. I’m like, “What is the best way for me to respond?”
Based on my current research, that’s the best question to ask out loud. I’ve started asking people in those moments, “How can I support you? Is this okay? Is this what you want?” Versus trying to assume that I know what’s best for them. Perhaps, we can do things like trigger warnings. I’m very careful, even some of the words that we’ve used, the violence that we’ve talked about now. I feel like maybe we should put a trigger warning at the beginning of this.
It doesn’t always occur to me. I feel like the trigger warnings are giving people the opportunity. It’s actually a spoiler alert. If I’m going to tell you details about a TV show, I will give you a heads up that I’m about to share something that’s a spoiler, so you can choose whether or not to keep reading. That is helpful. Perhaps we can do that more in our comedy and in our posts.
It could have been very different if this person on Instagram used a carousel image or a gallery image as they call it where you can put one post after another. What if before you post something that could potentially be interpreted as insensitive or hurt someone or trigger someone, you put a post that says, “Trigger warning. There’s a joke about COVID.” Some people might say, “That’s too much work. I don’t want to have to do that.” Wouldn’t that be a little bit more compassionate if we thought more about that?
It’s an opportunity that we can do verbally in our conversations. I’ve been practicing myself too. I have a tendency to ask a lot of questions and luckily, we have a show called This Might Get Uncomfortable, which is almost a trigger warning in itself. We have an explicit rating. When we bring guests on, we try to set the stage. We ask them, “Is there anything off-limits that you don’t want us to bring up?”
I wish I could do that more in my private personal conversations because there are some questions that I’ll ask of people and wonder, “I hope that they don’t feel uncomfortable in me asking this question. I hope it’s okay for me to ask them.” I would like to ask them permission first. You and I have done this. We’ve talked about this in the show. It’s asking someone, “Are you comfortable with this? Are you okay if we discuss this? Is this a good time for you? How can I support you?”
Asking those questions of people might feel awkward if we’re not in the practice of it, but it could be much more supportive because each person is responding to difficult times differently. To bring it full circle, watching that Netflix show with my sister was another one of those opportunities. I asked her before we started, “Do you want to watch the show with me?” Neither one of us knew what it was about.
I could tell based on how she was reacting to that first episode that she was deeply uncomfortable about it. I felt a bit guilty because she seemed a lot more uncomfortable than I was. I thought, “Am I a horrible sister that I subjected my sister to this?” Even though I didn’t force her. We could have turned it off at any point but some people don’t feel comfortable taking that initiative.
That’s why when we’re deeply connected and in a partnership with someone, whether that’s friendship or family or romance, sometimes we both need to participate in asking and setting boundaries. In that experience of that show, I’ve been trying to talk about it delicately to other people who have recommended it to us. I said, “This is a very violent show but it’s interesting. Maybe it’s something you want to check out.”
Even saying that out loud, I’m like, “I feel bad about it. What if a show like this is traumatizing?” I don’t want to subject somebody else to trauma or triggers. The whole thing is uncomfortable. I still wonder, “Why am I so okay with seeing something like that? What is it within me?” That’s something I do not have the answer to at this moment. Why am I okay with seeing that type of violence?
As many episodes go on this show, we leave with questions. We don’t necessarily leave or end with answers. That’s the nature of life. We ask questions. If we ask good quality questions, they lead to even more questions, not necessarily answers. As we leave you, we’re curious how you feel about the subject matter of violence, division, warring with each other, and whether or not humanity can ever achieve world peace and all the things we’ve discussed here. You can reach out to us directly. Whitney and I have an email we share for our company Wellevatr, which is the producer of this show and all the things. It’s a [email protected], which is also our website and our social media handles. DM us, comment on the website, and let us know.
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