Who gets a thrill making people feel badly? Sadists might; I don’t. Seems like an unflattering streak of sadism is surging on all sides of the political spectrum lately; an ugly and pernicious trend. I want no part of it.
That said, interests of truth periodically demand frank observers put aside their aversion to hurting others’ feelings and say what’s gotta be said.
Which brings me, on the heels of the tragic deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain who took their lives, to seriously uncomfortable “suicide talk”.
Reliably, a torrent of excuse-making has engulfed media analysis on the topic: don’t criticize anyone who resorts to this lethal option, they can’t help themselves, most folks can’t understand such depths of depression, etc.
I’ll clarify upfront: my heart keenly aches for those settling on this fatal step. Through-and-through, suicide is a tragedy. My family has been battered directly by it. There may, indeed, be mitigating factors in how we the living regard those who’ve indulged this enormity.
That’s not to conclude, however, there is any whitewashing of it. Suicide is deplorable, every time; full stop. We imperil society overall when we put into soft focus — or refuse to issue altogether — remorseless judgments condemning it; yes, you read correctly: judgments. Specifically endangered by our mincing reticence are those potentially contemplating this ultimate, irreversible feat of self-destruction.
This conviction crashed home to me when I stumbled upon a piece by Pauline Campos. The yahoo.com writer takes to task actors Val Kilmer and Rose McGowan for explicit or implied criticism toward Bourdain. Evidently, both utilized a wrong word for the professional chef/writer/globe-trotter’s terminal behavior: “Kilmer called Bourdain’s actions ‘selfish’ … Kilmer is wrong — suicide is not selfish … [McGowan] refers to his act as ‘his choice,’ … but choice implies a step taken when of sound mind and body. That’s not how severe depression works.”
So, the sixty-five-year-old’s killing himself was not selfish? I’m skeptical that conclusion will prove persuasive to the girlfriend, eleven-year-old daughter, devoted loved ones and fans now permanently robbed of his presence; abandoned in the wreckage of his stompingly self-focused decision. What — he was contemplating their welfare while personally administrating his own coup de grace?
And zero self-determination was involved in the acerbic TV personality’s brutal finale? “[T]he severely depressed are not thinking logically,” asserts Campos, citing her own troubled history: she labored under wrong thinking, wrong information and wrong counsel and treatment from those who, instead, should have helped her. This lamentable brew culminated in her “[going] forward with her plan … attempting to take [her] life”.
Short hand: hammered by a raft of abysmal hardships, Campos made an egregiously wrongheaded choice. She had no control over that response?
Pray tell: where does that line of reasoning end? Where does rotten, heart-shattering stuff cease giving cover for “kill-yourself” foolishness?
The trials of one’s life, doubtless, can weaken self-control, hamper clear thinking. The answer, of course, is never to forsake either and cash it all in.
Is the guy who breaks his fist punching the wall excused because he was really, really (really!) angry? Do we pardon the jealousy-crazed arsonist who torches her husband’s adulterous lover’s house? Poisonous envy? Consuming lust? Paralyzing grief? Where does the list sputter out of conditions which can “justify” a person’s irresistible recklessness?
A genuinely involuntary act occurs when an individual suffering a diabetic seizure — literally out of control — drives his vehicle into a sidewalk crowd. Someone perpetrating the same terrible atrocity because he’s in terrible emotional pain? Scarcely the same.
Campos seems to self-contradictorily concede this point when she volunteers, “My coping mechanism is patience. I wait out each round of depression with the support of my husband … [T]hen one day the fog lifts”. In other words, she chooses to resist the mortal allurements of the suicide-lie until they fade; (and good for her!)
The deficiency in poo-pooing personal agency in the matter of suicide (or any voluntary action) is usually rooted in swapping empathy for sympathy; two concepts commonly and casually interchanged because their distinctions are nuanced. Yet, those differences can be crucial; even — in this case — life-or-death.
In a nutshell, sympathy is care or concern for somebody else’s plight; empathy is emotionally — sometimes blindly — stepping into his/her place. The one introduces an appropriate dose of compassion or tenderness toward those grappling with crisis. The other tempts us to ameliorate their utterly misguided and outrageous deeds.
What I’m not suggesting? Gene Simmons’ method of suicide intervention: in 2014, the KISS front-man plunged into some (deserved) hot water for barking these harsh sentiments: “[F]or a putz … to say, ‘I’m depressed’ … [T]hen kill yourself … I always call them on their bluff. I’m the guy who says ‘Jump!’ when there’s a guy on top of a building who says, ‘That’s it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to jump,” … Shut … up, have some dignity and jump! You’ve got the crowd.” Decidedly, it didn’t help that mere weeks later comedian Robin Williams hanged himself. (Simmons eventually apologized for his indelicacies.)
The brute, rubber-meets-the-road facts, however, are: when a civilization soothes away suicide’s savage edges, its frequency is bound to increase. Less reprehension for anything nearly guarantees more of it — self-destruction not excepted. Cultural signals influence conduct. (Following Williams’ shocking demise, suicide rates — particularly by asphyxiation — zoomed; almost ten percent.)
I get that in this twenty-first century, we aren’t supposed to criticize anyone (except those who criticize anyone). Still, even hinting killing oneself is anything besides scandalously hideous is a grave delinquency; arguably, to the detriment of those who’ll feel that much more emboldened to pursue it. Being “kind” to those tormented by suicide’s siren call would include raising a call of our own: it’s never an acceptable way out. Sure, a feeling or two might be ruffled; but lives could be saved in the mix.
Notwithstanding disgraced Samurai and seppuku, Socrates and hemlock, Romeo and Juliet, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade — there’s nothing noble about death by one’s own hand. Misty Japanese culture and the ancient Greeks got this one wrong. And phooey on the stupid song from MASH: Suicide is hardly painless.
I truly do grieve over recent notables who apparently were convinced otherwise. What they did remains a short-sighted and abominable choice.
Image: Excerpted from: Peabody Awards – Anthony Bourdain, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53393872