We saw this in graphic terms this week when survivors of Sunday’s horrific suicide bombings in Sri Lanka struggled to come to terms with the scale and brutality of the tragedy that befell their country.
An image that has remained etched in my mind came from TV footage of a heavily bandaged female survivor lying on a stretcher in hospital as she screamed out to a journalist: “This would not have happened if we had a strong government!”
That’s the essence of grief. It’s expressed in raw and uncensored terms - no protocols, no niceties, no political correctness, just brutal frankness that comes straight from the gut.
And with the carnage of the Sri Lankan bombings, the woman’s assessment of the tragedy - spoken in a moment of extreme grief - is hard to argue with.
Let’s not beat around the bush - it was the flagrant ineptitude and unforgivable apathy of certain senior Sri Lankan government officials that allowed the suicide bombers the time and space to plot and orchestrate their operation with such meticulous precision.
Could the bombings have been prevented and such a colossal loss of life averted?
The answer to that has to be “yes” when you consider that the police had received a tip-off 10 days earlier about a possible attack on churches by a little known domestic Islamist group.
But with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at loggerheads, the government’s right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.
And in the ensuing confusion and lapse in communication, it seems none of the officials took the threat seriously.
The result was bloody and unspeakable carnage in one of the most deadly terrorist attacks anywhere in the world since 9/11.
The desperate cry of that female survivor on the stretcher that day was not far from the truth: with stronger and more cohesive leadership, the tragedy could have been averted.
Are there any lessons for South Africa from this depressing episode?
Well, for a start, both countries shared common experiences in their recent history - Sri Lanka having survived decades of civil war that ended 10 years ago; and South Africa having overcome racial strife under apartheid that ended after a negotiated settlement in 1994.
Could it be that many Sri Lankans were lulled into complacency during their decade of relative calm - and in the process, took their eye off the ball, as it were, believing they had overcome the worst?
Having won our battle for political democracy a mere 25 years ago, shouldn’t we also be wary of falling into the same trap?