The demise of etiquette

Death is a painful ordeal, which pretty much all of us have faced at some level. While one is all aware of its finality cerebrally, it obviously throws you off the rails when it happens rather suddenly. The first funeral I attended was when I was 18, and the most recent one being a few weeks ago. In the past decade, the etiquette around dealing with this major life event has drastically changed — and not for the better. Social media’s indomitable presence brings a pressing matter to the fore — how far should one go publicising death on a social platform?

Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler Ross categorised grief in five stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Denial is most likely the first stage one experiences. The manner of breaking the news gently is very important. With the advent of social media, this crucial stage gets compromised and could open multiple cans of worms. Picture this — a woman has lost her husband and the father of her children in a flash. She wakes up to find his cold body lying next to her. Panic, confusion, fear take over. Time will lose significance and meaning, at least temporarily, as she struggles to make sense of her new reality. There’s also the added fear of having to break the news to her children and aged parents. It’s a lot to process and she’s likely to go through several motions in a trance-like state. She is dealing with funeral and crematorium arrangements, informing loved ones in faraway places, perhaps organising social requirements for an appropriate final send-off, and most importantly, expenses — some unforeseen and some others expected. Its not like she might have had a lot of experience in this department, right? And she’s struggling to take stock of things unravelling around her at rocket speed. At such a time, how prudent is it for a well-intentioned but unnecessary status update on Facebook by a family member or sending frenzied WhatsApp texts to family groups? (Mind you, this isn’t a member of the first circle). This act is a breach of multiple levels of privacy and decency. Not only are you violating the family’s need for space, but a post such as this could cause a lot of confusion. Usually, posting about someone’s death could contain incomplete information as well — some major holes could be missing in that status update, and cause a great deal of distress for many. The distraught widow deserves some space to inform people at her own pace perhaps. She should be given that option, at least? If it is really so important to publicise the news, the first step is to seek permission from the family to do so and not just hammer away a status update or send a broadcast message.

The other really grotesque aspect of this frenzy? The condolences are directed towards the one who posted the message. Never mind what he meant to the person who died or not — he just happened to be the first one bright enough to capitalise on the opportunity and the first one to have access to Internet at that point in time. This is a new low.

Elders emphasise on the need for manners and etiquette. Today, there should be a new code of conduct for general manners in the time of social media. We’re already birthing a generation that is developing grab reflexes using iPads and mobile phones. While we may not be able to stop that, we can definitely sensitise this generation on how and when to use social media. Sadly, I’m seeing more examples of the “experienced elders” behaving like petulant and excited children with this unlimited access to social media, and they’re the ones in need of sensitising.

I remember a time when a close friend had a baby and wisely chose not to publicise it online. Of course, a major reason for her decision was the fear of online crimes where children are unfortunate targets. But inadvertently, she claimed control over a very private and cherished moment — the birth of her baby. A family should have the right to determine how and when their personal moments can be made public. Shouldn’t we spare a thought for those who are bereaved before pulling out our smart devices to document this delicate time on our timelines?