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We Have No Clue!!

I’ve learned over the course of the past few months that we have no fucking clue what to say to people in the face of tragedy.

BE VERY CLEAR…I do not see my situation as a tragedy.

9/11 was a tragedy.

The death of a child is tragic.

Adults who molest children is a tragedy. (And don’t even get me started on what I think should be done to the perpetrators, as it won’t be politically correct, humane or include any form of rehabilitation.)

My situation is not tragic. I am merely a statistic. One of the millions of people that will have some form of cancer in their lifetime.

But having said that, these past few months have taught me that we have no idea what to say to someone in the face of horrible news.

I’ve been fortunate over the course of the past 25 years to do a ton of personal development work. I KNOW – some of you that know me are thinking ….’Damn Girl you need to check into a refund!’ But it’s been through those programs I’ve learned much about empathy and being an empathetic versus sympathetic listener or coach.

But it’s with this recent curve ball that I’ve been pitched that I have first hand experience that most of us don’t have a clue about what to say to someone in the face of bad news. And I include myself in that most of us because even with all the personal development work I have done over the years I never really GOT the difference until now.

I believe that as humans we inherently arrive on the planet as empathic souls. You only have to watch a group of toddlers at play to believe that. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Then as soon as there is a pampered puddle of tears and snot you will see a scrum of fellow diaper dandies surround said puddle. You can see by their gestures and toddler foreign language that they are actually in their playmate’s world. Right there with him. They can relate. They truly care.

The power of empathy is that it connects us WITH people. It allows us to take perspective while staying out of judgment. It’s a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with YOU, I have to connect (or reconnect) with something in myself that knows that feeling.

That’s being VERY vulnerable for most of us!! Maybe even scary!

Empathy fuels connection. Empathy is to actually co-experience another person’s emotional pain and suffering. You actually put yourself in that person’s state.

The problem is we tend to respond to something horrible someone has told us with a sympathetic response. A sympathetic response is…”Ooh, that’s bad!” In the face of a very difficult situation we try to make things better.

Rarely does an empathic response begin with the words…“At least…..”.

“I lost my job”….“At least you had one.”

“My son is doing horribly in school”…. “At least your daughter is doing great.”

“I had a miscarriage”….. “At least you know you can get pregnant.”

“I have breast cancer”….“At least you’ll get new perky boobies out of it.”

“I have cancer”…“At least you’ll lose some weight.”

(Yes, people actually said these last two to me.)

Sympathetic responses drive disconnection…an empathetic response is….I know what it’s like and you aren’t alone.

So what is an appropriate empathetic response?

“I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m just glad you told me.”

Write it down.

Memorize it.

Practice it in front of the mirror.

Because I GUARANTEE that in the near future someone is going to tell you bad news. You will be standing in the face of bad news and this little sentence will give you the opportunity to connect with someone in a way you may never have connected with them before.

Face it…the truth is – rarely can a response make something better. However, a response CAN make a connection.

And what CAN make something better is a connection.

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