The importance of a good end

Charles 5 Comments


Ever heard of the peak-end rule? In the words of Wikipedia:

According to the peak–end rule, we judge our experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak and how they ended, regardless of valency [duration] (whether pleasant or unpleasant). Other information is not lost, but it is not used. This includes net pleasantness or unpleasantness and how long the experience lasted. 

In one experiment, a subjects were exposed to loud, painful noises. In a second group, subjects were exposed to the same loud, painful noises as the first group, after which were appended somewhat less painful noises. This second group rated the experience of listening to the noises as much less unpleasant than the first group, despite having been subjected to more discomfort than the first group, as they experienced the same initial duration, and then an extended duration of reduced unpleasantness.

It works the same with pleasurable experiences, too. The Artful Blogger supplies a good example: 

This fact of perception seems to be already in the bones of the most well-regarded artists. For example, I once heard a jazz pianist tell a group of students how to craft a solo improvisation. The cheat-sheet? Build to a strong middle, and make a solid ending…the audience won’t remember anything else. I’ve also seen many orchestral conductors add an especially dramatic flourish to their final cut-off, leading the crowd to go wild, regardless of what came before.

It’s one of those things that seems obvious once you’ve got your head around it. But for those who plan funerals and write funeral ceremonies, it’s clearly important to be understand how your the experience of your work will be evaluated in retrospect. 




  1. Charles

    Well, this is certainly advice which musicians receive at some point in their career – usually from people who’ve had need of this rather dubious technique themselves. And to some extent, with an audience of, shall we say, less discernment than others, this approach can work short-lived wonders. But at some point a longer career comes under proper scrutiny, and the emperor’s new clothes will eventually be seen for what they are.

    Ceremonies are different, I think. They are naturally allied to the proportions of a Golden Section, with a climax or focus point about 2/3rds of the way through, and a natural diminuation thereafter. Much more interesting than a big bang at the end, and much more fitting.

    1. Charles

      I think that unless asked not to, I’m generally inclined to give some weight to the time after the committal, at the very least as a kindness to people, to allow them time to gather their thoughts/emotions/tears in the lull that can be allowed to flow afterwards. And hopefully we can then bring the mood gently round again, by use of voice, sentiment, music etc.

      Sometimes people engage wonderfully in those difficult moments after the committal, but occasionally they seem almost absent-minded, as if going through the motions in an aftershock of emotion. We can only offer our best efforts and hope that people find something to which they can respond. And sometimes group dynamics have a remarkable, connective effect during that part of a ritual – a real coming together of minds and spirits – one of those collective moments of shared consciousness which is so rare and precious.

      I remember being marched out of a funeral immediately after the curtains had closed, and it felt like a terrible, wrenching interruption to the shape of what I was feeling. They may as well have shouted ‘time, gentleman, please’. Oh, it’s a tricky business, this deft shaping of the emotional journey, and should be marked ‘handle with care’ in every training manual.

  2. Charles

    Interesting and useful: maybe concluding words time is a great opportunity to say what has been done in the funeral, re-emphasise what will be taken away from the funeral, and then wind down the emotional intensity a little (assuming there’s been some, and we’re not just going through the motions!) and prepare those present for re-entry to the mundane but now changed world, of journeys and jobs. Then the final wind-down is the thanks and etc right at the end. The final bit of music is often bathetic, too.

    This process can help with Charles’ point about the intensity of the committal, and it also meets the Golden Mean theory. The shape is maybe more like 3/4 than 2/3, but it still works, I think. And hope.

    1. Charles

      That’s an interesting point , Gloria. But my own perception is that the time just after the ceremony is also very much part of the overall experience, when emotion can still be running high, and people are still in the moment.

      How many people come out of a ceremony room, and want to tell the celebrant something about their own reaction, about a past funeral, about their love for the deceased – for some it almost seems like an urgent desire to ‘de-brief’?

      So if we build this time into our overall thinking, we are back to a perfect Golden Section. If anyone has a musical bent, it can be helpful to think of it in terms of key changes. And that’s why it feels complete.

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