Social Question

SloanFaunus's avatar

Why are people afraid to "speak ill of the dead?"?

Asked by SloanFaunus (538points) February 10th, 2015

I had a grandmother who died recently. She was a miserable person. I got into an argument with my brother because I was honest about my regards to her passing which was something along the lines of “good.” Everyone felt that way when she was still alive, but when she died, everyone pretended that they liked and loved her the whole time and that they were so sad that she was gone. All of a sudden everyone is depicting this person as a saint and I’m a horrible person for being honest. I feel that people shouldn’t say what they don’t mean and change it as soon as it’s convenient.

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19 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I’m not afraid, it’s just etiquette, or what’s expected is to not speak I’ll of the dead. Possibly there is superstition mixed in, it sounds like a superstition, but I don’t know a specific one.

I remember when I was working as a realtor I got a listing, because a woman’s father died. Her mom was so upset. The parents had a real love affair all those years. Somehow they started speaking about when her grandfather died and how the family wanted to dance on his grave he was such a horrible man.

I can think of one other person I know who spoke well of their father/husband dying, because he was so abusive.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I agree with you. I can understand people not wanting to criticise her since she isn’t here to defend herself, but I don’t agree with gilding the lily. It’s fair enough not to be negative about her but don’t make out she was a lovely person either if she really wasn’t.

JLeslie's avatar

My I’ll above should be ill.

I just thought of one more thing. Probably it mostly is to be considerate of those in mourning. There are probably some people around who will miss and loved the person who died, so best to hold your tongue. Like I try not to say God damn it, because some religious theists find it so unsettling.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It isn’t fear. No one is “afraid” of the dead. As @JLeslie notes, its just considered bad taste to deride the deceased. Moms Mabley had a routine that ran. “They say you should never talk about the dead unless you can say something good. Well he’s dead——good!”

SloanFaunus's avatar

This is exactly what I mean. People are too wrapped up in politics, being politically correct, and this whole concept of “polite.” It’s all well and good to be agreeable, but the second your opinion differs from that of the masses, no one wants to hear it anymore. It is fear, fear created by social pressure and the want to be accepted, at least that’s what I assume hence why I asked the question.

Love is not the answer and hatred is a natural complex of the human being. You know, I always hear people advocating for the proliferation of love, but everyone acts like the concept on the other end of the spectrum is completely taboo and that’s unhealthy. Just a couple thousand years ago (not that long) people were ripping each others throats out without consequence and no one thought anything of it. The human being didn’t rise to the position of appex predator by being everyone’s friend. We got here by beating into submission everything that stood in our way including Neanderthals who outweighed and outsized the homo sapiens. Now we walk around like docile gimps, afraid of our own shadow. It’s disgraceful and we should be ashamed of ourselves for being so meek.

I’m not advocating for an outright onslaught, but how did we get to being so sensitive that we can’t even tolerate someone not liking us, that we would neglect how we feel in order to cater to the fond memory of someone who we despised? I don’t understand how people can be offended by mere words, especially if those words are merely an expression of someone else’s honest opinion. It’s nonsense and creates unnecessary social pressure that only confuses people more.

livelaughlove21's avatar

I don’t know, and I think it’s stupid. Dying doesn’t erase a lifetime of being an asshole. If you don’t earn respect when you’re alive, you don’t deserve it when you’re dead. Death doesn’t make someone special – we all do it eventually.

Same with people who get sick. This person is a class A jackass, but all of a sudden he’s diagnosed with cancer and he’s a good guy? No. He certainly didn’t deserve to get cancer and that sucks, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a douchebag and I refuse to treat him differently. Hypothetical “him,” of course.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I also think it has a lot to do with the fact that people are afraid of death and dying in general. Some people might wonder how they’ll be thought about when they die, and so they get mad or upset if anyone speaks poorly of the dead. That said, I do agree that people shouldn’t make things up about those who have died, who were genuinely horrible people. It’s stupid. However, I also do believe that some people probably loved her and most likely have some fond memories of her. Just for the sake of not offending those people, it’s polite to hold your tongue around them – and not because it means you’re being weak.

Also: Neanderthals mated with homo sapiens – “we” did not beat them into submission. They are very much a part of us, especially in certain places in the world. And it’s also not true, in general, that we got this far because of hatred. Yes, it’s always been a part of humanity, but so has love and kindness. Without banding together, helping each other survive, loving one another… we absolutely would not have made it this far. There’s no light without dark, no love without hate.

ucme's avatar

For me, it’s the same as when people remark that a very old woman must have been beautiful back in the day. Err, no, ugly bastards have been around forever, so stop patronising the old goat.

SloanFaunus's avatar

@DrasticDreamer Have you ever heard of rape? If so, that might explain why homo sapiens contain Neanderthal genetic material. And I never said that hate was the only way, that would be stupid. I said that people shun hatred like it’s unnatural while embracing love which is delusional bullshit. Both are natural. I didn’t slap a generic tag such as “yin and yang” onto it so you might not have got that. It’s funny though, I recently sat through a lecture on the topic of Neanderthal extinction and (needless to say) sunshine, daisies, and rainbows were not prominent themes.

Sure, homo sapiens were better at utilizing group strategy along with several other martial strategies. They weren’t holding hands and singing kumbaya while doing it. They were hunting.

SloanFaunus's avatar

I’m sure homo sapiens have screwed many things throughout the course of our history, that doesn’t mean we’re in love. Farmers and priests may love their sheep, but that’s a different kind of love, baby.

SloanFaunus's avatar

That’s like saying a rape victim was in love because there was sex involved. I’m gonna write a new book to educate people on consent. It’s gonna be called the urge and the needs. (Ya know cuz birds and bees.)

rojo's avatar

I would hazard a guess that it originated with the belief that the spirit of the dead remained on the earth and walked amongst the living and could cause harm or trouble for those still living if irritated.

The Greek aphorism τὸν τεθνηκóτα μὴ κακολογεῖν (“Don’t badmouth a dead man”) is attributed to Chilon of Sparta (ca. 600 BC) and the phrase De mortuis nihil nisi bonum (“Of the dead, nothing unless good.”) whose first recorded use dates from the 4th century, published in the Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (ca. AD 300), Book 1, Chapter 70, by Diogenes Laërtius, would indicate that it has been thus for many centuries. from Wikipedia

“Sunlight on the Sea” (The Philosophy of a Feast), by Adam Lindsay Gordon,

We eat and drink, we come and go,
(The sunlight dies upon the open sea.)
I speak in riddles. Is it so?
My riddles need not mar your glee;
For I will neither bid you share
My thoughts, nor will I bid you shun,
Though I should see in yonder chair
Th’ Egyptian’s muffled skeleton.
One toast with me, your glasses fill,
Aye, fill them level with the brim,
De mortuis, nisi bonum, nil!
The lights are growing dim.

SloanFaunus's avatar

Thanks for the poem and detailed response.

Kropotkin's avatar

She could come back and haunt you. Is that what you want!?

Now that she’s dead and “up there” (or down), she’s basically got a surveillance system that’s the envy of the NSA. This is why everyone else is being nice about her, and chastising you for speaking your mind.

Jaxk's avatar

Nothing you do or say will help or hurt the person that died. It’s all about those that are left. Telling someone that their mother/father/sister/brother was an asshole does no good for anybody whether you believe it or not. Every body has some good and some bad in them. Let those that knew them carry their own memories.

SloanFaunus's avatar

Nah, man. This one was a real bitch.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I still speak as honestly about my mom and dad’s faults as I did when they were alive. People look aghast at me sometimes, but I think it’s hypocritical to go on like they were saints just because they’re dead.

Coloma's avatar

I don;t know where this saying originated but I agree, if someone was a miserable person in life I am not going canonize them in death. haha
I have a few dead relatives that were complete asses and being dead doesn’t change anything.
They are still asses even in their graves. lol

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Um… no, dude. Nowhere did I compare rape to the mating that occurred between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. All I said was that “we” did not beat them into submission like you implied was the case. There’s evidence that H. sapiens allowed Neanderthals to assimilate – hence the Neanderthal DNA.

And obviously shunning hatred is idiotic – don’t assume that’s what I’m doing, because I’m not. I personally believe that certain forms of hatred can fuel people to make the world a better place.

I just think you’re a little too wrapped up in your GRRAWR!!! to see that the only point I’m making is that being extreme on either end of the spectrum is stupid.

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