A Time For Reflection

About 18 months ago, a friend came to visit me on his way to Montreal for a funeral. It got me thinking about community, togetherness and sadly, tragedy and how that impacts communities on a more philosophical level, not to mention that more tangible, from the gut emotional space too. I wrote a post talking about the relationship between community and death, which makes sense given that my research deals with some of these same inquiries. The post can be found here. Given the events of the summer to completely rock the hockey world, and the fact that I am editing a paper on similar subjects with the hope of getting it published in a "legitimate, academic" peer reviewed journal, I am going to revisit some of these ideas...and besides, I haven't written anything here for a while so I may as well recycle some of my previous good work...it's the academic way.

I should start off by expressing my most sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who were lost on the doomed flight to Minsk the other day on behalf of everyone who writes and is associated with bringing back the glory. I read a particularly poignant tribute from a Dallas Stars blog, which told the story of a cab driver who was picking up the wife and small children of one of the fallen players, the emotions he conveyed, particularly based on the fact that the children had yet to be told that their father had died, that they were going to Russia not to see their daddy, but to bury him. The widow and mother must have been going through hell and back just to keep it together herself, but trying to shield her children from what was clearly as devastating a blow as one can receive is dreadful. I immediately found myself in a strange position, similar to the sympathy and "Fellow Feeling" BCB explains in the post I linked to. I will explain why in a moment, first I'll explain the theory.

Fellow Feeling is a part of a greater concept explored by German thinker Max Scheler called "A community of feeling." Scheler claims that in a community of feeling, there is a sense that when members are in pain, each individual feel the same sorrow—as if they are feeling-with as well as being-with. Immediately in Scheler’s text, he makes the connection, similar to French scholar Jean-Luc Nancy's later assertion that communities are often defined through death, linking pain with solidarity and empathy as well as sympathy. Recognizing the capacity for painful circumstances to create and strengthen memory harkens back to Nietzsche’s assertion of a similar concept in On the Genealogy of Morals (1887/1994), where he describes this process. “A thing must be burnt so that it stays in memory: Only something that continues to hurt stays in memory… When man decided to make memory for himself, in never happened without blood, torment and sacrifices” (Nietzsche, 41). A shared process of grief allows this process; the combination of pain, loss and sacrifice act as a catalyst for the stories to be held inside all of the members of the community of feeling, even if the painful feelings are latent or dormant. To quote BCB, who provided an excellent unpacking of this concept in his own post:

This is when two, or more, individuals directly experience feelings together, as feelings-in-common. These feelings must be of abstract feelings (Scheler would say spiritual or emotional) and never physical feelings: since we can share intellectual emotions but we do not have the same body, we can not have share a physical feeling in this way. Scheler's example is when two parents lose a child: the feeling is one and identical.

Fellow Feeling is a subcategory, one that allows a person not to step directly into the shoes of the person who is feeling, but to have sympathy based on an understanding of the emotion. The way one experiences the feeling vs. that of another are clearly subjective and different. In this line of thought, one person is actually suffering while the other is commiserating through a process Scheler calls "emotional identification.

Few things in life are more difficult than telling someone you love that someone they love is gone. When my own father passed away under clearly less tragic (but still shitty) circumstances nearly 9 years ago, I took it upon myself to tell my younger brother. That was no easy task I can assure you. We were both young at the time, but not nearly so young as these children. The story about the mother not yet telling her children reminded me of how I felt, having learned mere minutes before that I had lost my dad, and that I was on my way home to break the news to my brother and I had about 20 minutes to prepare. This brave woman had to take a transatlantic flight and be alone with her thoughts, without the ability to truly share her grief, her pain or her mourning with anyone. Lots of time to prepare, but no opportunity to commiserate. Though I know you will never read this, I offer you my story as a form of fellow feeling, and wish you a lot of strength. I can assure you (and whomever else reads this post) that I am not trying to come across as callous, that this is not a meaningless, empty gesture. In so many ways, death defines life. The tragedy in Russia is one of those times.

The summer has been a bad one for hockey, not because of anything to really do with the playing of the game, but for the community of hockey players, their families, friends, and the fans. More players have died this summer in tragic circumstances then I think any of us has ever imagined, and more attention than ever before has been given to the violence that surrounded the playoffs in Vancouver, and the knowledge that players who are paid to play the game have weaknesses and frailties, just like the rest of us.  So to that, I offer up this thought; We are a community here, a disconnected and fragmented global community to be sure, but one whose affinity is drawn from a shared love of a game. In times like this however, this must take us away from the game as-such and into a much bigger picture. When you read headlines and sound-bytes about the hockey community, or hear people like Gary Bettman offering seemingly endless platitudes about sympathy for the families, think about it for a minute, really think about how these players who we often treat as nothing more than statistics and cap hits, use-value and trade bait, and perhaps through this tragic summer attempt to re-humanize some of the game, some of the people and help to bring about the changes in the culture that hockey will inevitably be associated with after a long, dark off-season.


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