A child in the Western world will inherit a cultural legacy of death suppression and denial. Death is threatening, right? So it stands to reason that denying it would be a rather comfy way to live. And yet, studies have shown that trying to suppress thoughts of death will only make them more prevalent.
Social psychologist Daniel Wegner’s “Ironic Process Theory” proceeds like so: Starting right now, you are absolutely not to think about a purple cow. Under no circumstances should you think about a purple cow.
So what are you thinking about, sucker?
Chances are it’s a queerly-hued bovine. You might even be obsessing about the purple cow.
The same goes for: you are absolutely not to think about death. Death is not safe. It’s morbid, pathological. Do not dwell. Push it away. But what, knowing what we know of the purple cow, are you most likely to obsess over?
It is well known that bereaved or traumatized people who try to avoid grief take the longest to recover. In many ways, the universal experience of a child discovering that everything will die someday is its own kind of trauma. Since addressing it is forbidden, it becomes a trauma from which we’re never really allowed to recover.
In our psyche, death is like a bomb sitting in the center of the room. We can face the bomb head on, and move forward with the hard work required to diffuse it. Or we can cover it up with some sassy throw pillows and pretend its a couch. But it will never be a couch. It will always be a bomb, unpredictable in its explosion.
We should know by now that death thought suppression doesn’t work. Science supports that. Society supports that. It is only by realistic interaction with death that we will be able to moooo-ve forward as a culture. Mooooo-ve forward. That’s a cow reference. Get it? Yeah, I don’t think I should be allowed to write blogs, either.