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Why Do We Say Nice Things About Dead People?

Updated on February 25, 2014


Wouldn't it be lovely to get on with everyone? Life would be so much sweeter. However, it's somewhat unusual to find anyone who gets on with just everybody, and has never fallen out with a friend, or had a nasty word to say about somebody.

And this applies to even the nicest of people! Sometimes people just don't get on, and there are many reasons why we might be negative about another person. Here are just a few:

Maybe there's a clash of personalities and we just don't get along with one another from the start.

Maybe we disagree with their views.

We may not like the other person because they're different to us in some way, and this breeds suspicion and mistrust. (In this situation, if we only got to know them better then maybe we would become the best of friends!)

Perhaps we resent them because of something they've done or something nasty that they've said about us, our family or our friends.

Or we've offended them in some way (whether we realise it or not!).

Maybe we are jealous of them for some reason, or we look down on them or we don't approve of the way they live their life, or there has been a feud between our family and theirs for generations, and we don't even know what it was about because it was before we were born!

For these reasons (and probably many many more), there will always be people we don't like. And there will always be people who don't like us. Sadly, it's a fact of life.

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But then the person we've been negative about dies, and we no longer have negative things to say about them. Why is this? Here are some thoughts.

1. We've always been taught that we shouldn't speak ill of the dead.

2. For the sake of their grieving family we say only good things about this person, even if we're still secretly harbouring resentment towards them.

3. However much we hated someone in life, we (hopefully) wouldn't wish death on them, and when it happens it's a wake-up call as to how petty and unnecessary our grievances really were.

4. Now that this person's dead, our negativity has no 'target', so we might feel that there's no longer any reason for it.

5. Many cultures and religions greatly respect the dead.

6. Now that this person is dead they will have learnt something that we mere mortals can only guess at; they know what happens to us after we die. And if we believe in such things, we may also imagine that they know the answers to all of life's questions, and the meaning of life itself! They have become all-knowing super-beings. And we can't fail to respect and be in awe of such power.

7. If we believe in life after death, then we may also believe that at death we repent for our sins and that our soul is cleansed. So however nasty we used to consider this person to be, and however much they wronged us, perhaps we now think of them as a good!

8. We may have secretly believed that one day we'd resolve whatever problems we had. Now that our sparring partner is dead we've missed our chance, and we just feel regret. Perhaps we may compensate for this by saying nice things about them.

9. Maybe we secretly enjoyed the rivalry, and now we miss it!

10. Perhaps we secretly liked the person all along...


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    • Moon Daisy profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Daisy 

      5 years ago from London

      Thanks Esther for your insightful comment.

    • Esther  Strong profile image

      Esther Strong 

      5 years ago from UK

      I think you are spot on in saying that even if you don't get along with someone you wouldn't wish them dead and so when they do die it puts things into perspective (there has to be some good in every person).

      Yes, I guess you can finally let go of whatever the issues were because what would be the point of holding on to them.

    • angela p profile image

      angela p 

      6 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

      I have seen this happen too many times in my family especially. This hub has really given me some things to think about and helps answer the question... why?

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Moon Daisy, now this is a great idea to think about. I would add that perhaps why we speak well of someone whose behaviour we disliked when they were alive is because of our guilt. Guilt in the sense that we may feel that it was a loss of possibilities - we've lost the possibility of having a real friendship therefore we feel guilt over that. Perhaps we feel that we could have been more understanding and loving towards that person or finally we feel guilt for being so angry with that person for their shortcomings and ignore our own. I have encountered people who have challenged me in many ways, especially in the work environment; so I'm wondering what I'd say after they're dead...Food for thought.

    • Peter Owen profile image

      Peter Owen 

      7 years ago from West Hempstead, NY

      once dead, they are no longer an actual or perceived threat to us and our jealous minds. If we cannot life ourselves up in life, we can rationalize our situation by putting everyone else down.

    • Moon Daisy profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Daisy 

      8 years ago from London

      Thanks for your comment truster.

    • truster profile image


      8 years ago from A Bed of Roses

      Interesting point of view!

    • Moon Daisy profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Daisy 

      9 years ago from London

      Thanks for your comment, which I found very interesting.  I agree with you, when somebody dies it doesn't wipe out their imperfections or events that actually happened.  I think it's also healthy to remember things how they were, good or bad.  And I'm not sure that it's any more respectful to a person's memory to distort their truth!  Doesn't seem right somehow.

      So I like your sentence "Truly honoring them can be done by living the truth".  Very well said!  I think that, especially when it's a parent or other loved one who has died, it's talking about them and what they were really like that keeps the memories alive.  (And some people, you just know, wouldn't want you to sugar-coat the truth anyway!)

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin

      I was talking the other day about how frustrated I was that people do this. I made a comment about something my father did that drove me nuts and I didn't like. My husband's mother was mortified. I was not to talk about my father that way since he has since passed away. Why not? It's a fact. I still love him and miss him but I'm not going to lie. My husband's family puts everyone up on these mountains and make them perfect. We are NEVER to say anything negative about them. But they are who they are. Truly honoring them can be done by living the truth.

      Good hub.

    • Moon Daisy profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Daisy 

      10 years ago from London

      Thanks for that. I wrote it in reply to a request which I thought sounded interesting, and it really got me thinking.

      Well, it would be a really good thing if it did make a difference to somebody's friendship. I didn't really think about that!

    • glassvisage profile image


      10 years ago from Northern California

      I like that you really dug deep into this idea. I think you covered just about every reason why people would have only nice things to say after someone passes on. Hopefully this encourages people to make nice with "enefies" before they end up at a funeral

    • Moon Daisy profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Daisy 

      10 years ago from London

      Thanks Fishskinfreak. No, I suppose that wouldn't be much use. People might not want to hear negative things said about an author who's died. Also, I guess one reason for giving a critique of somebody's work is so that they'll read it and maybe take the advice on board for next time. If they're dead they won't be able to do that!

    • Moon Daisy profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Daisy 

      10 years ago from London

      Thanks Gary. You're right, facing our own mortality is very hard. The thought of life continuing without us is very sad. And how can we imagine the world without us, when we've only known it with us in?!

      Thank you. This hub was in response to a request, and I thought it sounded like an interesting question.

      I'll take a look at your profile.

    • Moon Daisy profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Daisy 

      10 years ago from London

      David, thanks for your comment. I love your philosophy. Life's too short for silly arguments! Sometimes you need to be able to take yourself outside the situation and be like an outsider looking in. Otherwise it's all too easy to get wrapped up in it and like you say, waste lots of energy on the small stuff!

    • fishskinfreak2008 profile image


      10 years ago from Fremont CA

      Very good ideas. As a writer, I know that I have to critique (i.e. negatively evaluate) a lot of things. Guess we can't do that to dead people, huh?

    • qlcoach profile image

      Gary Eby 

      10 years ago from Cave Junction, Oregon

      It is very hard to face our own mortality. Many people have a hard time being honest about other stressful emotions. Thank you for shedding light on this topic with your Hub. Please see how I try to help people in new ways too. Sincerely, Gary Eby, author and therapist.

    • 516Ads profile image


      10 years ago from Long Island

      The same set of circumstances can happen to two people .... one can react positively ... the other negative ... it's amazing.

      Seemingly there's many reasons why people go negative. Just ask them. Me, I try to follow the thought process of love people while their alive. Put smiles on people's face, while their alive. Don't wait until their on a deathbed to forgive old wounds. Love now, Laugh now. Forgive  or better yet ... try to let things bother you so much .... life will throw some real 'big deals' at you .. don't waste your energy on the small stuff. - David


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