In the last few weeks, we have seen a hate based mass murder, a tragic plane crash, and weather catastrophes. Shows of solidarity and support have been pouring forth. And a lot of thoughts and prayers have been professed. This phrase “thoughts and prayers” is invoked as a balm to those affected. Far too often, that is the extent of the action taken to ameliorate the situation.
Thoughts and prayers has become at best a meaningless shell, and at worst, a snide joke. What if, though, those who said it undertook the true meaning of their words?
Thoughts: taking the time to understand the causes of the tragedy. This might mean learning about the science behind climate change. This might mean learning about the psychology of violence in society. This might mean learning about supply chains and access to basic human resources. Taking the time to learn about the victims. This might mean learning about their community structure. This might mean learning about the lost potential in human capital. This might mean learning about a different religion, political process and world view. Taking the time to quantify the impact of their suffering not only emotionally, but physically, economically, and socially. This might mean learning about PTSD and its effects. This might mean learning about their employment options. This might mean learning about the global interconnectedness of the world.
Putting thoughts into action might mean all of the above and more, but it should not mean that a few minutes spent on sympathy, pity and sadness is sufficient.
Prayers: acting on the knowledge gained in the process of thought. In Judaism, the hebrew word Avodah means work, but it is also used to mean prayer. Working towards community justice and social good is prayer. Working to avoid future tragedies is prayer. Working to help those suffering, both through their immediate troubles and their future difficulties, is prayer.
Thoughts and prayers need not be an empty shell. Thoughts and prayers can deepen our understanding of humanity and lift us all. But, first, we must understand the true meaning of thoughts and prayers.