Being Herded

Social and cultural conditioning are processes where members of society consciously or unconsciously herd the other members into behaviors and thoughts that are acceptable to the group as a whole. This form of herding one another is a great survival tool out in the wild where cooperation is necessary, but now seems to only stifle those who can’t be or won’t be herded. Conditioning is one reason it’s so hard for others to grasp the scope of grief. Not only can non-grievers not understand grief, they can’t accept it. Their every interaction with the bereft is geared toward herding grievers back into the fold of societal norms.

The jargon of grief is that of illness, of negativity, of . . . fault, as if somehow we who are grieving chose our state and now we have to overcome, heal, recover, move on, get over, return to normal. By blaming us for grieving too long, by refusing to admit that our grief is normal, by assuming our inability to respond to their herding instincts is due to our stubbornness or damaging behavior, onlookers to our grief can more comfortably return to their own lives, and leave us alone with our sorrow.

This herding is called behavior priming and is prevalent in almost all group interactions. I was painfully aware of the process after Jeff died, and I’m particularly aware of it now, when certain phrases are bandied about with no objective, it seems, other than to force us into groupthink. For example, “We’re in this together.” No, we’re not. As I’ve mentioned before, everyone is coming at this situation from their own unique point of view. A person who lives alone, who has been laid off, who is in danger of losing their home or business is not living through the same crisis as a person who still has a secure job and comes home to a loving family.

“Safer in place” is another example of a phrase used to herd folks, but again, they are simply words without any real meaning. Sure, a person who lives alone and never sees anyone is safe, but what if that “place” is a nursing home? Definitely not safe, considering that in Colorado, as in many states, the majority of deaths have taken place in nursing homes.

Which brings me to the point of this particular discourse. The most common priming comments from people who disagree with those who urge the reopening of the economy are “You don’t value life,” “You’re trying to kill people,” “You want your grandmother to die,” or variations of the same, all herding people toward a certain ideology without taking into consideration the deaths and devastation that are already occurring because of the lockdown and will continue to occur when the strictures are lifted.

Besides, if the goal was to protect the elderly, then we failed abysmally, considering all the nursing home deaths.

This is what keeps going around and around in my head. If 80% of deaths from The Bob occur in those over 60, that means 20% of deaths occur in those under 60. If you subtract out the 60% of nursing home deaths from “free range” elderly, you also get 20%. So, it seems to me that if a person isn’t in a nursing home, there is no reason to protect the elderly more than the younger folks since the death rates are more or less the same.

Just another very confusing aspect of this Bob situation.

None of my cogitation will change anything, but it does help steer me away from being primed, keeps from reacting emotionally to those trying to herd me into the fold, and allows me to ponder the various ramifications of our current situation.

And that’s all to the good. My good, anyway.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.