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  • Writer's pictureMark McMinn

Why are People So Mean? Challenge #7: Good Grief

In writing this blog series on how not to be so mean, I keep getting redirected to Charles Schultz, creator of the famed Peanuts comic strip.

In response to my third challenge, a couple readers mentioned Snoopy’s book on theology, titled, Has it Ever Occurred to You That You Might be Wrong?

Then, in my research for this seventh challenge, I found my way back to Schulz via Charlie Brown’s famous phrase, “good grief!," which first appeared in 1952.

Researching a blog entry leads me down various rabbit trails, and one of those trails took me to The Gospel According to Peanuts, a 1965 book written by Robert Short, then a graduate student in the divinity school at University of Chicago.* I’ll not go far down this trail, but I’ll mention one quote from Short’s book:

“But now we turn to that factor that enables our grief to become good, that produces the light that shines in the darkness, that brings ease even into the midst of dis-ease…” (p. 102)

I’m drawn to the idea that grief can be mingled with enough good for us to detect some light seeping in around the edges. Maybe it's worth befriending this sort of grief rather than pushing it away. When we fail to accept our grief, we easily become cynical, bitter, dysphoric, hardened, and prone to lash out.

Reflective souls have various metaphors for life's grief. Trevor Hudson notes how we all sit beside a pool of tears. Ronald Rolheiser suggests, "In this life, there is no finished symphony." The Hebrew psalmist writes of "the valley of the shadow of death." Whatever metaphor we choose, life can feel suffocating and brutal at times. What we do with our suffering shapes how we interact with others.

Years ago I failed my first board certification exam as a psychologist, which motivated me to get back into supervision with a more experienced psychologist before trying the exam again. In one of our sessions, Jim, my supervisor, challenged my idea that I should have a set of techniques to ease whatever discomfort my clients may bring.

"Mark, the best therapy is mostly about grief, just learning to be still enough to let the client touch the deepest losses of life, many of which can never be recovered or restored."

That supervision session changed me, both as a psychotherapist and a human being.

Failing to sit still in our grief often turns ugly because it devolves into projecting our pain inward or outward. We end up trapped in our psychological defenses, engulfed in the thick emotional armor that protects us from what hurts most. When we project pain inwardly, depression is the result. When we push it outward, we become angry and mean.

My seventh challenge is to remind myself, and to invite my readers, to sit with grief, to hold it as courageously as possible, to weep and struggle and question, to confront head-on the depth of our losses and fickleness of life's twists and turns.

After sitting still in our pain for weeks or months or years, a glimmer of hope often begins to break through the storm clouds, and that glimmer almost always comes in the form of a person.

How does grief become good? I don't understand this mystery fully, but I've seen it happen over and over. I've experienced it, too.

And from what little I know of Charles Schulz's life, I think he may have also.

Previous posts in this series:

Challenge #1: Vengelessness

Challenge #2: The Other Team Matters

Challenge #3: No, I am NOT Omniscient

Challenge #4: Hermeneutic Humility

Challenge #5: Minding Our Social Media Matters

Challenge #6: Meeting Our Inner Narcissist


Superfluous Footnote Section

*Another rabbit trail had to do with the first known mention of “good grief,” which was a censoring of Sam Walter Foss’s poem, An Art-Critic. Foss's original poem contained the scandalous phrase, “Good Lord!” To clean up the language for Werner’s Readings and Citations, the editor changed the phrase to “Good grief!” Coincidentally, this would have happened around 1922, the year Charles Schulz was born.


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