Opinion: “Our Thoughts and Prayers Are with You” Means Nothing to Those Suffering in War-Torn Countries

George J. Ziogas

You’re in our thoughts and prayers!

Sending thoughts and prayers!

We’ll hold you in our prayers.

Sending all of my positive thoughts your way.

We’re lifting you up in prayer.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with thoughts and prayers, the problem is it’s an empty sentiment when it isn’t followed by action.

Just about every American has been hit with thoughts and prayers after something terrible has happened. It’s a quick, easy way to acknowledge that someone is going through a difficult time, and it’s a seemingly effective way to communicate compassion and/or concern. It tells someone you care about that you’re thinking about them, that you’re with them in spirit. A kind of promise that you’re sending positive energy.

I don’t buy it.

The Emptiest Phrase in the English Language

It’s an empty phrase now that politicians have used it ad nauseam — they’ve used it for the families and communities after school shooting after school shooting. They use it for every war-torn country after an attack. And it’s one thing for an individual to send thoughts and prayers. It’s quite another for politicians with real power to hold their hands up, send thoughts and prayers, and shrug it off as though they have no power to do anything beyond that. Thoughts and prayers have become the empty sentiment from the empty suits.

Is it an entirely meaningless phrase?

Is it just a way to conveniently give up on action and wash your hands of something?

Ultimately, it’s probably a bit of both.

It shouldn’t be a convenient way to avoid action, but it’s become one.

When tragedy strikes, it’s right to stand with people in solidarity. But that shouldn’t be the end of the conversation, there needs to be real action after.

I always think back to a story someone shared when I was young. A religious man loses his wife, and all of their friends approached him at church with scripture verses and thoughts and prayers. But one man simply sat down next to him, put his arm around his shoulder, and cried with him. It was a small action for the man to take, but its impact was profound.

The repetition of thoughts and prayers is a big part of why we can’t take it seriously anymore. Columbine, Santana, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe, Oxford, Uvalde, and wherever it happens next. You see, thoughts and prayers haven’t done a damn thing to prevent the United States from being the world’s mass shooting capital. So, how on earth would thoughts and prayers help the people in war-torn countries across the globe?

If you look at Google trends for thoughts and prayers, you’ll notice it’s a phrase most commonly used in the United States and it spikes during mass shooting incidents and natural disasters.

We are far beyond offering thoughts and prayers. It’s a time for action.

Thoughts and prayers are an excuse for inaction, and as important as it is to vote the wrong people out and get the right people in government from top to bottom, none of that change will happen fast enough.

The Effects of War

War displaces thousands of people, depriving them of their basic human rights. Not only are they being displaced, but they’re also being pushed to the brink of poverty and famine. The world can’t stand by idly and watch anymore — not when there are financial contributions we can make, not where there’s humanitarian assistance, we can provide to address the unfolding catastrophes in countries all over the world.

Ukraine isn’t the only country dealing with violence from an intruding country. After Western countries cut aid to Afghanistan, the UN reported that up to 23 million Afghans will suffer from hunger. Yemen remains a country at war. Ethiopia is facing all-out civil war.

There’s an unfolding situation between China and the United States over Taiwan, with ships and planes engaging in close encounters in the region. Israel continues to subjugate Palestine, with the support of many Western countries. Haiti’s capital is being run by gang lords. Myanmar is in economic free-fall after a military coup that cracked down on protests. Turkey is intent on destroying Rojava. That’s not even all of the issues the globe is facing, that’s just a small taste of some of the biggest conflicts right now.

But you’re just one person — so how can you, a single person, do anything more than offer thoughts and prayers to the people in war-torn countries? I understand how overwhelming it is. And I know how stressful it is just to keep up-to-date with the news at home. I’m not telling you to wade into online arguments about every conflict.

I’m not suggesting you pack up and move to a war-torn country to join the fight. What I am telling you is there are things we can do to help beyond offering meaningless thoughts and prayers designed to make us feel better about inaction. So, what can we do right now?

Donate

There are organizations on the ground around the world supporting the people of war-torn countries. Whether it’s People in Need or Care International, The World Health Organization, the United Nations World Food Program, Global Giving, or Medical Corps. If you have disposable income, then we should aim to put our money where our thoughts and prayers are and cough up to help those people.

In addition to monetary donations, many charities also accept donations of items, such as hygiene products, diapers, canned foods, etc. If you find a charity that operates in the country you’d like to support, you’ll find a list of items they accept.

Action

Taking action in a literal sense is a bit more complicated, but it isn’t impossible. You can join a peace protest or join with Global Citizens to take action. Global Citizen works with an international community to raise funds, address medical needs and support the refugees who are literally fleeing for their lives.

Inform

I already told you that you don’t need to mainline the news, but you should do your best to remain informed about what’s really going on around the world. Always seek out reliable sources and use AFP fact check to make sure you’re getting accurate information. There’s always a reporter on social media who either compiles a list of the most trustworthy sources on a particular subject or who translates information from news sites in a specific country.

But you can also take steps to learn about the background of a conflict or situation. It helps put situations into context.

Final Thoughts

So yeah, thoughts and prayers don’t mean shit to those people who are living through war and the inevitable famine, poverty, and violence they face on a daily basis. You may as well shrug and wash your hands of it — it has the exact same impact.

To close — thoughts alone aren’t going to make a difference to people in need. Prayers alone will help nobody trapped in a country with conflict. Real action can and you are more than equipped to take real action, whatever conflict you decide to focus on.

So, the next time someone utters the phrase thoughts and prayers you have full permission to educate them on how little that truly means. But don’t leave it at that, follow it up by letting them know there’s a lot more just one person can do to help those people that doesn’t necessarily involve meaninglessly offering up thoughts and prayers.

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