Prank Calls, Suicide, Why I Love Grace and Why You Should Too

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Last week I did something really dumb. I opened my mouth and said something which, while it was never intended to be malicious or hurtful, ended up wounding a friend. I apologised in a number of ways and am pleased to report that the relationship is restored.

Like it or not, however, I had to own the consequences of my actions. No doubt you know the emotions I was feeling at the time – that awful sensation that drops out the pit of your stomach as you realise the damage you have caused, the great desire to rectify it and yet the knowledge of reality – that there is actually nothing you can do on your own to repair what has been torn.

By now you have surely seen the news about this recent tragedy.

A nurse at a London hospital who took a hoax call about the Duchess of Cambridge has been found dead.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said in a statement they were “deeply saddened” by the death of the nurse, named as Jacintha Saldanha.

King Edward VII hospital paid tribute to “a first class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients”.

Details of the pregnant duchess’s medical condition were unwittingly revealed to two Australian DJs.

Mel Greig and Michael Christian, from Sydney radio station 2Day FM posed as the Queen and Prince Charles in a call early on Tuesday morning.

What started out as dumb words, never intended to be malicious or hurtful, ended causing wounds far beyond what could have been (at least at first sight) reasonably foreseen. The family of the nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, as obviously distraught. So are the DJ’s (pictured above), who went on to give interviews to TV stations here in Australia.

Mel Greig told Channel 7’s Today Tonight programme: “Unfortunately I remember that moment very well because I haven’t stopped thinking about it since it happened and I remember my first question was ‘Was she a mother?’.”

Channel 7’s Clare Brady replied: “When you found out she was – of two children – how did you feel?”

Greig replied: “Very sorry and saddened for the family. I can’t imagine what they’d be going through.”

Christian responded: “Gutted. Shattered. Heartbroken.”

Gutted. Shattered. Heartbroken. Again, that dreadful feeling in the torso that just won’t go away. The realisation that nothing can really undo one moment of folly – something that appeared innocent and yet had such terrible consequences.

Almost immediately the media conversation moved to what was perceived to be a key question, who was to blame? Not, how did this happen? but who made it happen? We are all to quick, are we not, to point the finger. And so we did. Of course the first jabs were, naturally, at the DJ’s themselves. Much of this anger was residual from other similar events at the same station over the past few years.

The radio station has received two warnings from the watchdog over previous stunts.

2Day FM is a ratings powerhouse, especially in the lucrative 25-39 age bracket. It remains Sydney’s most popular music network, with an audience share of about 10%.

In August 2009, shock-jock Kyle Sandilands was criticised by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd after a 14-year old girl revealed she had been raped during a lie-detector stunt.

The controversial breakfast show host has revelled in the notoriety and remains a dominant force in the competitive Sydney radio market.

For others, it is the industry itself that must share responsibility – particularly when it comes to the whole concept of the prank call.

The basic premise of the prank call is to exploit the naivety, trust and vulnerability of the target for the entertainment of the listener. A prank call typically involves a family member, friend or work colleague contacting the radio station to set the target up with some information about something they know has upset them and will likely trigger a reaction. By definition, the individual is already vulnerable in some way – frustrated by bureaucracy, upset over a relationship, feeling guilty about some trivial misdemeanour, or just known to be gullible and an easy target.

Just a few decades ago all this might have been written off as good fun – just like the workplace tricks colleagues would play on their apprentices or the racist and misogynist jokes you could read in the newspaper or watch on television. But society has moved on. Both of those practices are now illegal under harassment and anti-discrimination laws. And we now have data that tells us that the prank call “victim” might be much more vulnerable than we previously suspected.

For one, it is the hospital that must take some of the blame for putting her in the position in the first place and then not looking after her properly in the aftermath.

And so the blame game continues. In various ways all the different parties will, deliberately or not, shift the blame away from themselves. It’s instinctive. We all long to be vindicated, we all feared having our misdemeanours (whether commission or omission) exposed for all to see. We want to laugh at the silliness of others but we absolutely dread our own mistakes being laid bare, as clearly Jacintha Saldanha dreaded and could not cope with. What she was simply unable to deal with we also do not want to face up to because of the merciless way in which our reputations will be destroyed. And so we can never be honest about how much we are really to blame for.

So now here is my observation. There is only one solution for all of this: Grace. It is grace that allows us to be honest about our failings. It is grace that allows us the space in which to truly search our consciences and discover just how guilty we are. And it is grace which is the only calm for that dreadful feeling when we know we have done wrong and we simply cannot repair our trespass. There is nothing like knowing you are truly and unconditionally forgiven for it frees us to confess that we truly and unconditionally we need forgiving.

So the DJ’s are distraught, but they are not sorry inasmuch as they take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The media will, perhaps, stop making prank calls or at least make extra certain to check up afterwards to make sure they can broadcast and will all collectively wring their hands. The hospital will review it’s telephone and support procedures to see what they can learn from this incident. But I pretty much guarantee that nobody will hold up their hands and say “you know what, to the extent that my actions even in the slightest contributed to this tragedy I will take full responsibility“. How could they?

And do please note, this is not the same as saying “look, they’re not really to blame”. The thing is, let’s face it, they are! It’s no good saying “we never intended this to happen. We could have never foreseen this”. This isn’t about intent or foresight, it’s the simply fact that wrong actions have contributed to the death of a woman and yet no-one will, at the end of the day, actually take responsibility.

How could they without grace? Who would expose themselves to that?

And so now not only Saldanha’s family, but the DJ’s, the hospital administration, the media and others will walk around with that dreadful feeling in the pit of their stomach because at no point, I fear, will grace be shown.

But imagine a different scenario. Imagine that the response to these DJ’s was not (as I am sure will have happened) to have called in the lawyers along with the therapists (and lawyers come in many guises – some practice law, some practice psychology) but to have simply said “do you know what, as bad as this is there is forgiveness – that awful feeling can actually go away, not by pretending the wrong doing wasn’t done but by having it forgiven”. Can you imagine the difference? Can you imagine a pair of DJ’s not simply speaking of their very real distress at the situation but also testifying to the beginnings of relief from that distress by the application of grace on the part of those most wronged. Can you imagine the DJ’s saying “we did a terrible thing, which we are only now realising the depths of, and yet we are overwhelmed with the mercy shown to us”? How wonderful would that be? And yet I fear we will never see it.

Now, there is a point to all of this and it is simple.

We must show grace for mercy is the only real answer to any broken relationship. We cannot atone for our own actions, we cannot pretend the guilt away. Ultimately the only solution is to be forgiven.

And that is why I love grace. That is why I need grace and I needed last week when I so badly hurt another.

And that is why we must show grace to others. The terrible events of the past few days must surely evoke that famous and very timely phrase, “there but for the grace of God go I” because the Christian does know what it means to be forgiven by trusting in the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf – the only real effective atonement – and so the Christian also knows the unbelievably powerful effect of forgiving others.

So here is my call to you all. Love grace. Show grace. We have little opportunity to change this situation we are watching play out around us, but we have our own encounters every day where a word and attitude of grace can have profound effect, loosen the knots in someone else’s stomach, and speak most clearly of the amazing grace which governs our lives.


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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Michael Robinson

    Thanks David. A thoughtful and well written piece – as usual.

  2. Me

    There are a couple of things about this that also require thought that you haven’t mentioned, both about the woman herself.
    First, it’s so difficult because there is no forgiveness. Who was the real wronged party? Her. But the radio station and DJs have no possible way of getting her forgiveness. The forgiveness of the public and of the family would only go so far to relieve the burden that these people have.
    Second, out of all the “blame”, all of the people and companies who had a part in bringing this tragedy together, where’s the blame for her? Her death caused this to be more hurtful, for so many more people.
    I know it’s in bad form to blame a deceased person for anything, but while this would still have been a hard situation to rectify with her alive, it has become so much harder for so many more people now that she is not here to take her share of the “blame”.

    I know this isn’t the point of your post at all, and probably would have taken away from that, but these are some things that are glaring in their omission.

    1. David Ould

      thanks “me”.

      Having been involved in a few suicides I want to push back gently at your second comment. Invariably those who take their own life are in such a state of despair that they are not thinking rationally, at least in the sense that most of us would understand.

      In fact, it’s been my experience that in similar situations people sometimes genuinely think that they are “doing the best thing” for those around them – i.e. removing themselves from the situation. Of course, are you correctly recognise, nothing could be further from the truth but I think it does make me want to ask you to reconsider.

      Thanks for commenting, appreciate you taking the time to think this through.

  3. Lucy Browne

    David I worked as a psychiatric nurse for a while and I totally agree with you. Most people who commit suicide I firmly believe do so not for selfish reasons but because their thinking becomes distorted and they genuinely believe that they are doing the best thing for those they are leaving behind. Now obviously I cannot speak for every single person who has taken this tragic decision however without actually knowing the nurse involved here I believe that there were a few factors that led to her death. We know that she comes from India and was living in the UK, people who are living in a different culture to the one that they were raised in can find stressful situations more difficult to deal with. When this ‘prank’ was broadcast it was then heard by not only people in Australia, but the UK, USA and I would imagine loads of other countries. Not everyone can deal with this amount of attention. The two DJs from 2DayFM were longing for fame, recognition of their ‘talents’ and loved the fact that this call had got them so much attention. Jacintha on the other hand did not ask for any of this. Her chosen profession was a more private one, she was a nurse. I would also imagine that she may have felt that she had failed in someway and not carried out her duty of care to the Duchess of Cambridge. Her age, 46 may also mean that she was going through the peri-menopause stage of her life and this can also affect a woman’s mental health. Prior to Jacintha’s death I still found the whole ‘prank’ in really bad taste. When I was about 14 my friends and I would sometimes run up our parents’ phone bills by making prank calls. Despite our young age we would have never dreamed of phoning a hospital! Severe ‘morning sickness’ (which usually lasts all day) is a really difficult condition to cope with. 2DayFM as you pointed out has had other complaints made against them for inappropriate behaviour, hopefully now measures will be taken by those in authority to either remove their license or close them down.

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