Recently I have been noticing a theme on my social media. There is a post of someone passing away. Within that post the comment section is filled with comments such as:

"I lost my mother 4 years ago. I am sorry for your loss."

"I just saw him 3 days ago and he seemed totally fine. I am sorry for your loss."

Etc. . .

To me, these types of comments are borderline selfish and inconsiderate towards the grieving person who posted that their loved one had passed. I struggle with this for 2 reasons.

1) I find myself being judgmental towards the person in the comment section. After all, they most likely have Noble intentions.

2) I struggle when trying to console someone who is grieving because I am hypersensitive on not coming off as selfish. Which in turn sometimes makes conversations short and seemingly inconsiderate in and of themselves.

I would truly appreciate any insight or work from notable philosophers that could shed some light on this subject.

Thank you in advance!

  • While the intention can be very different, the end result of saying something out of empathy or out of self-interest can be very similar. – curiousdannii May 13 at 4:11
  • It is not selfishness, it is empathy. By recalling their own losses people try to demonstrate that they are not making a mere verbal gesture, but share the emotions as well. Your concern over selfishness is oversized. Mackie in Ethics argues that human altruism is necessarily self-referential:"The happiness with which I, inevitably, most concerned is my own, and next that of those who are in some way closely related to me... There is nothing wrong with self-love and confined generosity in themselves." Empathy is a way to extend this confined generosity to strangers. – Conifold May 13 at 4:21
  • Some people are just so self-absorbed that's what they do. Forgive them, they're doing their best. I disagree with @Conifold that it's empathy. Unless in some particular case it is. But mostly it's because your loss triggered their feelings about their own loss. So they use you to wallow in their own misery for a while. Human nature. This Mackie fellow, he's a glass half full guy I bet. Looking on the bright side. – user4894 May 13 at 4:39
  • Thank you for your comments. I think what I have a problem with may lie more in the fact that these quick "sorry for your loss, here's something about myself" comments are happening on a Facebook wall. If I was mourning a loss and someone came to me in person and said "I am sorry for your loss. I lost my mother 4 years ago" that might spark a conversation and we may be able to console each other. On a Facebook post these comments come across as borderline inconsiderate although the intensions may not be so. – Desmond May 13 at 5:08
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    @user4894 That's nonsense. Both of these could be innocent; the former a form of relating (as opposed to "exploitative massochism"), the latter could merely be an expression of shock followed by sorrow. I'm not claiming they always are innocent, but since they could be, and since this is the only information you have, it's a bit paranoid to just pass judgment like that. FYI, Desmond, I agree they both can sound insensitive, and laud you for your caution, but still offer that one should tend towards being charitable and reserving judgment unless you have good reason not to be. – H Walters May 13 at 5:16

I don't think this is really a philosophical question, but I'll weigh in anyway...

This is like asking "What can I deduce about a person from his fingernails."

Answer: The person has fingers.

Back to your question, they may be speaking out of selfishness, empathy, a combination of both or none of the above. Comforting someone who has suffered a major loss can be confusing, and we often don't know exactly what to say. There's often a temptation to say SOMETHING just to fill a void, rather than say nothing.

In related news, you mentioned "social media." Seriously?

Maybe we should take a closer look not at the people who responded to the grieving person's note but to the grieving person who told the whole world his mother died, or whatever, on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

I'm not saying it's absolutely wrong to post such information on social media, but the social media do have some limitations. On the positive side, be thankful if no one offers you thirteen pet goats from Animal Farm as compensation for your loss.

Frankly, I worry about people who invest too much time and emotion in the social media.

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