What do you do when someone who has caused harm to others and who you don’t like at all dies? I guess singing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” probably would be frowned upon. I have a strong honesty policy and the idea that we should not speak ill of the dead, no matter how problematic they were as individuals is one that I don’t abide by.
I do find it interesting how long the philosophy of not speaking ill of the dead has been around for (wikipedia):
The Latin phrases De mortuis nihil nisi bonum (“Of the dead, nothing unless good.”) and De mortuis nil nisi bene [dicendum] (“Of the dead, nothing [spoken] unless good.”) indicate that it is socially inappropriate to speak ill of the dead. As a mortuary aphorism, De mortuis. . . . derives from the Latin sentence De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est (“Of the dead nothing but good is to be said”), which also is abbreviated as Nil nisi bonum. In English usage, freer translations are the aphoristic phrases “Speak no ill of the dead”, “Of the dead, speak no evil”, and “Do not speak ill of the dead”.
The first recorded use of the phrase of mortuary respect, dates from the 4th century, published in the Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (ca. AD 300), Book 1, Chapter 70, by Diogenes Laërtius, wherein the Greek aphorism τὸν τεθνηκóτα μὴ κακολογεῖν (“Don’t badmouth a dead man”) is attributed to Chilon of Sparta (ca. 600 BC), one of the Seven Sages of Greece. In the 15th century, during the Italian Renaissance, the humanist monk Ambrogio Traversari translated Diogenes’s Greek book into Latin, as Laertii Diogenis vitae et sententiae eorum qui in philosophia probati fuerunt (1433), and so popularized De mortuis nihil nisi bonum, the Latin aphorism advising respect for the dead.
So it’s a whole lot of cultural baggage for many of us to shed to speak ill of the dead. I’m much more in favour of an honest recounting, I don’t want my enemies (if I have any) to sing my praises when I’m dead (though they’re welcome to sing the praises of my death if that works for them).
I’m not going to go out and rejoice that a tyrant is dead in front of those people who are grieving the loss of that individual, because I’m not insensitive. I know that this person was loved by others and that their loss is mourned, I respect that. I think that my relief and the celebration of the removal of a particular stress from my life now that this person has died should be something that I don’t feel guilty about.
I (oddly) agree with Freud on this one (Wikipedia):
- The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud mentions the phrase in Thoughts for the Times on War and Death (1915), in the second part of the essay, “Our Attitude Towards Death”, wherein he said:
We assume a special attitude towards the dead, something almost like admiration for one who has accomplished a very difficult feat. We suspend criticism of him, overlooking whatever wrongs he may have done, and issue the command, De mortuis nil nisi bene: we act as if we were justified in singing his praises at the funeral oration, and inscribe only what is to his advantage on the tombstone. This consideration for the dead, which he really no longer needs, is more important to us than the truth, and, to most of us, certainly, it is more important than consideration for the living.
When Thatcher died some people were upset that others were celebrating in the streets. Sometimes when a tyrant dies, dancing in the streets is the first thing that comes to mind.