Stephen Colbert interviewed President-Elect Joe Biden and future First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. There was a section that particularly struck me as more important than perhaps it seems on first listen: a discussion about grief and empathy and the role of the President in guiding a country through loss.
The grief discussion starts at ~2:55
The reason to grieve was implied, throughout this discussion, as the tremendous loss of human life. We’re grieving as a country the loss of 300,000 people; we’re grieving as individuals the loss of one person.
Loss of life can happen through death, which hits us all at once—one moment, that person is here, and then they’re not.
Loss of life can also happen through the entire world turning upside down. As much as some people may try to deny, cry hoax, refuse to wear masks, there’s no question none of us are living the life today that we led in January. This is a more insidious loss—it happens gradually, perhaps with moments that seem especially dramatic (lockdown orders, school closures, jobs lost), but in general we dig in our heels as the inevitable change happens.
This isn’t an exact transcription, but the moments of the exchange that I thought can be used for those of us experiencing loss of a life through death as well as those of us experiencing loss of a life through the world turning upside down.
Our country has an unaddressed grief. What do you think the role of the President is in leading the country to face loss?
Empathy is a critically important thing.
It’s not healthy for the nation… I’m worried that we’re not addressing the grief, that we have to take a moment for the grief.
There is a reason to grieve. We’ve had great loss. We can invest more in mental health. We’re going to get through this, it’s going to be hell.
One of the reasons Joe was elected was his sense of empathy. He understands what they’re going through. We feel their pain, and there’s hope.
I’m convinced that, as a country, we are missing the ingredients for true reconciliation with the grief we are all experiencing: acknowledgement and empathy.
Acknowledging that we’re grieving, that this is hard, that all we want is to “go back to normal;” acknowledging that there is only a new normal, not the old normal; acknowledging that society isn’t set up to support us during this time; acknowledging that we’re angry and scared and don’t know what to do.
Empathy for those around us experiencing grief, empathy that none of us know what will constitute “it will all be okay,” empathy that we’re all struggling at different levels and paces; empathy that some of us have done the acknowledging and some of us haven’t; empathy that someone acting out of fear isn’t necessarily a horrible person but needs time and space and resources to understand their fear.
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