How Not to Say the Wrong Thing
First, a thousand thank yous to Carolyn who sent me this link. I have read many articles about how to support a friend in trouble, and even written a few that attempted to make good suggestions. This is the best. Susan Silk has developed a simple system for how to support your friend and how to take care of yourself. She calls it the "RIng Theory" and the basic plan is: Support In, Dump Out. That will make sense when you read it.
I think we might all do well to Xerox many copies of this article from the L A Times and be ready to distribute them to our friends--ideally before a major faux pas is delivered, but most certainly afterwards. Here is the beginning and then a link. This is a treat and a brilliant concept. Read it.
How not to say the wrong thing
It works in all kinds of crises – medical, legal, even existential. It's the 'Ring Theory' of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out.
When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan's colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn't feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague's response? "This isn't just about you."
"It's not?" Susan wondered. "My breast cancer is not about me? It's about you?"
The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie's husband, Pat. "I wasn't prepared for this," she told him. "I don't know if I can handle it."
This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan's colleague's remark was wrong.
Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.