Enough with the empathy signalling

Just a warning: I might be being completely unreasonable in this blog.

It’s about bereavement. And ‘reasonableness’ is not top of the list of attributes of the recently bereaved. If you’re anything like me, losing a loved one leaves you vulnerable, thin-skinned, and liable to fly off the handle at the slightest thing.

So here’s that thing. I’m in the midst of the second of the now bi-annual parades of brands falling over themselves to let me opt out of their marketing emails about Mother’s and Father’s Day.

Both my parents have died, and I really appreciate it when friends recognise that those days might be a bit tricky. But I’m a bit more conflicted when it comes to brands doing it.

We’ve been writing lots about how businesses can be more empathetic. So I’m sure these brands mean well. Or, at least some of them do. I get so many of these emails now that my inner cynic suspects they’re clambering on to a speeding bandwagon of empathy-signalling: could it be that their motivation isn’t that they actually care, and more that they think they’ll look bad if they don’t join in with the public displays of understanding?

To be fair, there are some businesses where it seems more reasonable. If I’m signed up to email marketing from card shops (which I am, thanks to my side-hustle writing side-splittingly sarcastic greetings cards), and they’re going to send me daily reminders of Mother’s and Father’s Days, I can understand it.

But I just a did a trawl of my emails and found there are several brands who email me to see if I want to opt out of Mother’s and Father’s Day marketing emails (which I ignore) and then NEVER SEND ME ANY. Which leaves me with the nasty impression that they’ve reminded me of something they claim not to want to remind me of, just so they can show how thoughtful they are.

Every bereaved person’s different; there may be many people who disagree with me. But one of the things you have to do is learn to live with reminders of the people who’ve died. Mother’s and Father’s Day are obvious ones, but not necessarily the most affecting. For me it’s just as likely to be a relationship in a book or a film. A scent. Or most likely, a Lancastrian turn of phrase.

You can’t opt out of everything. In fact, you know you’re getting somewhere when you can not just live with the reminders, but even enjoy them.

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