Broken Telephones

Only the most hardened heart cannot find some level of sympathy for the family members of the coal miners who were found dead in Tallmansville, West Virginia. After the initial news of miners being trapped inside the mine, family members gathered at the Sago Baptist Church near the mine.

After some 41 hours of waiting for news regarding the status of their loved ones, word finally came that one body had been found and the status of the other 12 was yet undetermined. Obviously, emotions were all over the map as families prayed and hoped for positive news. About 3 hours after the news of the first discovery, news surfaced from the depths of the mine that the 12 remaining miners were alive. As one might imagine, euphoria broke out inside and outside the church and the good news spread rapidly. Unfortunately, somewhere between the location of the miners and the location of their families, the message of the miners’ status was garbled or misunderstood or misspoken: 11 of the remaining 12 were, in fact, dead.

In the midst of all the excitement and confusion, the mistake was realized and needed to be corrected. The company, in an effort to verify the miners’ status, waited another 3 hours before notifying the families who were still celebrating and waiting for their men to finally return alive from the depths of the earth. Jubilation was suddenly turned to disbelief, outrage, bewilderment, and brokenness when the correction was delivered.

In Israel this type of miscommunication is commonly referred to as a “broken telephone.” Many people are familiar with the children’s game where the first person whispers something into the ear of the second child. The second child whispers the message to the third and so on. The “fun” part of the game is to see how much the message has changed by the time it gets to the end. Of course, the change isn’t intentional it simply demonstrates the tenuous nature of point to point to point communication. Clearly, in the case of the coalmine, the message of the “broken telephone” was not a game, neither was it intentional nor fun.

As usual, the 24-hour news channels are offering all types of speculations on who is to blame for this miscommunication. Additionally, they are offering video blurbs of the angry, grieving families lashing out at the mining company management, which is probably unfair to the families because they are being tempted to say all sorts of things, primarily venting their anger. International television is not a good venue for that type of thing so close to the time of the tragedy. While the raw emotions are real, they are raw emotions, which generally need some time to be put into perspective. This being the case, I have committed myself to be very generous in my reaction toward these grieving people as they vent their anger and speculation on who is to blame, though it is too early to know what happened.

I am, however, going to be less generous toward the news outlets and the lawyers who invade this community in an effort to encourage these families to sue someone because of a “broken telephone.” People make mistakes, and this was just that, a mistake. Unfortunately, I just saw on the news a woman declaring her intentions to sue because she had been told her daddy was alive before she was told he was dead. It’s a tragedy to be put on an emotional roller coaster like these families were, no doubt. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it doesn’t merit financial compensation. Suing in this case, would suggest that the motivation is greed not justice.

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