The ‘thoughts and prayers’ backlash

There have been so many “thoughts and prayers” extended after tragedies that the words no longer have any meaning, the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich says in the Magazine’s dive into politicians’ (and others’) attempts to get their name out there in the midst of tragedy.

They can’t be accused of “politicizing” tragedy, one media specialist says, even though that’s exactly what they’re doing, and that’s what makes the cliche so disgusting. The readers aren’t that stupid.

It’s hard to settle on why ‘‘thoughts and prayers’’ is objectionable. Maybe it’s just the aggressive passivity of the phrase. I’ve seen it included on compilations of ‘‘things not to say’’ that people enduring difficult times sometimes assemble. In an article about his battle with cancer in his This Life column for The Times, the author and social commentator Bruce Feiler listed ‘‘My thoughts and prayers are with you’’ as a big no-no. ‘‘In my experience, some people think about you, which is nice,’’ Feiler wrote. ‘‘Others pray for you, which is equally comforting. But the majority of people who say they’re sending ‘thoughts and prayers’ are just falling back on a mindless cliché.’’

‘‘It takes a couple of traditional pieties — ‘in our thoughts’ and ‘in our prayers’ — and combines them to somehow make the underlying sentiments even emptier, along Hallmark lines,’’ Bob Garfield, a co-host of WNYC’s ‘‘On the Media’’ told the Times. ‘‘When uttered by civilians, it’s mechanical enough. When uttered by elected officials, it has all the emotional resonance of a Miranda warning.’’

Leibovich says on matters of “thoughts and prayers,” pols should exercise their right to remain silent.