The Grief Vampires

Grief vampire. Even if you never heard the term before, understandable considering it’s only now starting to gain weight in the common vernacular, one can’t help but know exactly what is meant by that term. Certainly it may conjure up the image of some predatory pimp waiting at the bus stop to greet the runaways as they arrive. “Hey, cute thing, you need a ride and a place to stay?”

Certainly that fellow fits the fits the vibe of the term, but he is but the tip of the iceberg.

It is interesting to note that Wikipedia article for “Grief Vampire” is simply a link to their article on psychics. I think that’s unfair to psychics but only for the crime of singling them out when they are not alone in that enterprise (Hello? Faith healers?). But yeah, they totally are.

So what is a grief vampire? One could say someone who profits from the misery of others. But then wouldn’t hospitals and doctors fall in to that definition? So let’s refine it to: a person or organization who profits from the promise of relieving misery while perpetuating that misery.

Africa is being ravaged by AIDS, and for comfort some are turning to (n.b. read in a sinister Scottish accent) The Church who are telling them to avoid condoms. Some parents aren’t vaccinating their kids because they DON’T want them to get sick. People are voting for economic policies that will make them poorer just so they don’t lose their job. Last, but not least, people who make terrible life decisions are being advised by people whose own life decisions are suspect under the rubric of having psychic powers that see into the unknown.

Here’s the only problem I have with the term “grief vampire”: it suggests an evil intent, Malice as they say in British Law, when really, the vast majority of grief vampirism is done by people with the best of intentions. Consider this thought experiment:

You’re walking in downtown Calgary and this guy comes up to you holding what appears to be a cocktail napkin with something written in red crayon on it’s face. He tells you it’s the deed to the Peace Bridge and he’s willing to sell it to you for the low, low price of $1000. He is going to relieve your misery about money but letting you buy valuable riverside property with a lot of foot traffic for a bargain basement price. You can install a toll booth and your income problems are over!

Of course, no one who reads my posts is so bumpkin-esque as to fall for that old gag, you savvy sophisticates, you.

BUT if we are truly rational thinkers, we would be compelled to admit that this man is one of two possibilities:

  1. He’s clearly a con artist and not even a good one. I mean, red crayon on a cocktail napkin?
  2. He’s clearly so stupid and unsophisticated that he legitimately thinks he is selling a deed printed on a cocktail napkin in red crayon that legitimately gives him the right to sell property that he legitimately owns

Of course, for all we know that cocktail napkin changed hands a half dozen times since it was first forged through a series of yokels, each thinking they’re the next Donald Trump (and they wouldn’t be far off considering the real estate deals he’s made).

As many of us know, the Dunning-Krueger Effect is when the stupid don’t know they’re stupid because… well… they’re stupid. I know that sounds elitist but let me just add that we all have our DK moments, especially me. Growing up is about learning your limits and sometimes that means trying things that are only theoretical to us. I’m reasonably certain there’s a lot of people out there that are pretty sure they could land a 747 in a pinch based purely on their cinematic experiences.

How about when we decide, without any mental health training, that we can be the White Knight for that Hot Mess, or perhaps that one who has so much potential if only they had someone to guide them? How about when we try to be hard asses to get control of a situation, only to escalate that situation? How about when our compassion becomes enabling? Are we not grief vampires then? How about our inability to kick some of out unhealthy habits because we derive a degree of comfort from them? Are we not our own grief vampires then?

Lest I be accused of humanizing the terrible people amongst us, let me introduce some nuance. True, while it may be difficult to distinguish the charlatans from the challenged, I find it is the charlatans who recognize it’s a scam and are therefore better at it (See: Tyler Henry; Benny Hinn, Gov. Mike Huckabee).

There are no faith healers who invite scrutiny so that atheists can have the proof of Jesus that they seek (It’s not a vending machine!). No psychic who charges money will even bother doing a reading for a skeptic. No libertarian wants to see a comparison of Somalia vs. Sweden. No naturopath wants to see scientific rigour of their products published to the masses.

Deep down, they know… they know.