Laurel L. Russwurm's Free Culture Blog

a writer, the copyfight and internet freedom

A Funeral is a Private Thing

with 2 comments

There are a whole lot of things to be talked about arising from the tragic events of last weekend. But the thing that cut me most to the quick is the death of that little nine year old child. Probably because I’m a mother. Not so long ago my precious child was nine.

The thought of losing a child is the most terrible fear a parent has. My heart breaks for Christina Taylor Green, and I grieve with her family.

So the whole business of the funeral protest– the very idea of protesting at a funeral is incredible to me. I’ve not heard of any such thing in Canada, although it may happen here, too, for all I know.

Needless to say I was surprised and pleased when I heard Arizona passed a special law outlawing protest near funerals. That helped a little.

Yet the controversy rages still.

Many people are upset because they think it is censorship.

But it’s not. This is a private matter. Privately, parents have the right to decide what their children see, hear and read. Because it is private.

Publicly, parents do not have the power to decide this for others. That would be censorship.

world changing

Now, I do think it’s important for people to participate in society. I think it’s important for people to try and effect the changes we think will improve the world. Which is a very powerful reason why I support WikiLeaks. But WikiLeaks has a storm or protest swirling around it too, and for similar reasons.

It all boils down to one thing.

the difference between public and private

Many people say WikiLeaks is bad because it makes private things public. But I disagree.

WikiLeaks has not sought to make private things public. In fact, over and over again, WikiLeaks has indicated that they support individual privacy.

What politicians say and do in their line of work may be concealed, or secret, but they are public employees engaged in work for their government.

Governments are not human beings, they are public institutions. There can be no privacy there, because privacy is a human right.

Politicians are public servants. That makes them accountable to the public. What they do on their own time is private— as long as it does not impact on their work.

When anyone takes any job, they are accountable to their employer. If sales clerk steals from her employer, she can’t claim privacy as a shield. If a minister absconds with the church bank account, he can’t claim privacy as a shield either.

why peaceful protest?

The point of peaceful protest is to effect public change.

It is appropriate to protest bad government decisions on the steps of the government buildings, because it draws the attention of both the government and the public. Public pressure can then be applied to the issue and government (in a democracy, anyway) will listen to the citizens and act in the public good. Or in a non-democratic nation the government will arrest and carry the peaceful protesters off to jail to suppress dissent, and then perhaps the neighboring democratic countries will protest, and thus effect change.

It is appropriate to protest bad corporate policy in the street outside the business, making it difficult for employees and customers to get in or out to do business with the corporation. Since corporations are artificial constructs incapable of human ethics, they can only be influenced solely by the bottom line.

Corporations and government both operate in the public sphere, and the greater public does indeed have a stake and should have a voice in what they do. Change can sometimes be effected this way.

But a funeral is not a public thing.

Funerals may appear to be public because they occur in public venues and can travel on public thoroughfares.

But a funeral is a private thing.

A funeral is part of a private human practice that has grown up out of the universal human grief process.

Funerals exist to allow people an opportunity to cope with and live through their personal grief. The proceedings and ceremony often spread into the wider community to allow other human beings to provide their personal support. People share their personal feelings and support each other. So although a funeral may have the appearance of a public event, in reality it is a private part of the healing of the survivors.

sisters playing dress-up

With my sister, Lynda

I have attended many funerals in my life. Some for aged relatives whose passing was expected, others not.

I’ve supported people I care about and attended funerals for people I didn’t know well.

Last year I attended the most difficult funeral I’ve yet had to attend. It wasn’t unexpected, but it was devastating nonetheless. I still can barely think about the loss of my older sister, Lynda, who had such a great influence on me.

This loss has scarred my soul and will never entirely heal. But the funeral helped me to wrap the personal loss in a special place in my heart, and to take comfort from friends and family and the extended community. Inclusion of the human community in the grieving process does not negate the fact that it is a private thing. The human privacy of a funeral expands to include all the humans so affected.

The only appropriate demonstration for a funeral is the demonstration of grief as part of the human healing process.

When you protest near a government, you do so to tell the government to hear your idea, and hopefully change. When you protest near a corporation you tell the people who set its policy it is on notice. But what are you protesting at a funeral?

The people attending a funeral are too enmeshed in grief to be able to hear ideas. Protest will interfere with their grieving process, and thus inflict harm on them. Which is wholly inappropriate.

The most that will be accomplished would be to make the funeral attendees forever an enemy of the ideas of the cause the protest espouses. Which is wholly ineffective. Exploiting the grief of the mourners at a funeral is, at best, in bad taste. It is certainly not a place for public protest.

Sometimes, there are important points that need to be made in public about death. Sometimes we need to publicly talk about issues and ideas surrounding a death. But still, the funeral is not the place.

No nine year old child should ever die like this.

Christina Taylor Green’s life has been ripped away from her. Her family and community will be devastated by the loss of this beautiful nine year old child. They need the opportunity to grieve in peace.

There is nothing stopping protesters from holding their own public memorial service, or rally. Then it would be an appropriate public thing.

Protesting at a private funeral can only further harm the people who are already harmed, exploiting the tragedy.  Some people seek to do that. Even though it harms the public good.

Human society allows government the facility to enact laws so that it can support the public good.   And sometimes it happens that governments do just that.

This is one of those times.  Bravo Arizona.

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

January 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] A Funeral is a Private Thing Christina Taylor Green’s life has been ripped away from her. Her family and community will be devastated by the loss of this beautiful nine year old child. They need the opportunity to grieve in peace. […]

  2. I felt what you said about losing your sister, it made me cry. That is a lovely photo of her. She looks full of the strength and confidence of healthy youth.

    I’m a bit wobbly myself at the moment, I’m sure your post makes a good point but identification with grief is where I’m at, so I hope you don’t mind me saying so. I’m sorry you’ve lost your sister, even though it wasn’t unexpected. No amount of expectation can make it better. In some cases it might even make it worse. I hope yours isn’t one of them.

    Take care. Love and God bless.

    Sue.

    PS read my blog if you like. It’s a bit shocking and like ploughing through mud in places. Sometimes I employ a style which is nothing to do with me as a person. It seems like the only way to say some things.

    - Sue Barnett, BA English

    January 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s