Raise your hands if you’ve ever read a blog post or an article titled, “10 Things Not to Say to Someone Who [fill in the blank].”
They’re often written by people in certain situations who hear the same comments or questions over and over again, and they’re tired of it. So they write a list of what they’re sick of hearing, and they send it out it to the internet. Anyone else in that same situation cries, “AMEN!” and shares it.
The problem is, very few people outside of that situation will read it. And, to be honest, even if people do read it, they’re not going to remember.
And you know what? It’s not their job.
Hey y’all, Mrs. Crazy here.
I have Crohn’s disease, which I’m pretty open about. As a result, I could write a long list of “what not to say to someone who has Crohn’s.”
But I won’t.
I use a handicap parking pass even though I am not in a wheelchair, and I could write about how people should stop judging me or think I’m stealing the spaces.
But I won’t.
I had another miscarriage last year, and I could talk about the things well-meaning people said that felt hurtful.
But I won’t.
I could give several more examples of events or situations in my life that could spark another list of “what not to say/do to someone who …..”
But I won’t.
(Although the one time I really have wanted to was when someone told a new mother that she shouldn’t expect meals to be brought to her because she “had 9 months to prepare.”)
In all seriousness, the reason why I don’t write those lists is because they’re honestly not all that effective. We are all different! Something that was hurtful to me during my miscarriage may have been extremely comforting to the person who said when they were going through their own miscarriage!
And they’re also somewhat ineffective because they don’t really make the impact we want them to, even if they were to go viral.
Let me explain.
The majority of people who ask questions or say something are simply curious, not spiteful. They don’t intend to hurt or wound, but are simply trying to understand.
People who make comments or do things that inspire these lists fall into one of two categories.
- The first (and hopefully the smaller of the two) is that they really are jerks. In this case, a list isn’t going to make them be any different. If they bother to read it, they’ll sniff condescendingly and move on.
- The second group of people are people who are genuinely interested in your situation! But unfortunately, this group is getting smaller and making way to a third group…..
- The people who don’t say anything.
By making these lists, we scare those people who want to get to know us. People who want to learn about someone else’s life.
And how can they know anything about you if they don’t ask?
Our society as a whole has shown a shocking increase in lack of empathy over the past several years. We’ve also seen an uptick in “political correctness.” I don’t think that those two are unrelated.
(And before you lecture me on correlation vs. causation, please remember that I have a degree in mathematics. I do think that there is causation.)
To illustrate, I have a new friend who is a white woman married to a black man, and their children are biracial. With all of the tension in our society of race inequality, I have some questions that I really, really want to ask her.
But I don’t. Because I’m afraid it will be seen as insensitive or rude, and it’ll ruin our budding new friendship.
However, if I don’t ask the questions, how will I (as a super white woman who gets 2nd degree burns after 5 minutes in the sun) ever be able to get a true, better understanding of racial inequality that occurs on a daily basis?
Because I am trying to be “politically correct” and not ask a question that may offend, I lose out on the opportunity to understand and empathize with someone. This extends to future interactions I have with other people. The next time I see a situation on TV that is similar, I won’t be able to say, “Oh, yeah, my friend is in that situation and it is so hard.”
I may get on the airplane and be judgmental of the parent whose older child is throwing a fit, instead of recognizing some of the same symptoms that my special-needs siblings have.
I might not recognize the symptoms of a woman who is in an abusive relationship, because I don’t know what that looks like since my own isn’t that way, and I was too afraid to ask a friend who has been through that experience.
So to those of you who are in situations that make you want to scream the next time someone asks you, “Oh, you have twins? Double the trouble!” (or whatever it is in your life), please, please remember this:
A question is a teaching moment.
When I get stopped in the parking lot because I am in a handicapped spot with no wheelchair, I could get upset. I could rant and rave to the person about my 35+ hospitalizations in 6 years. But what good would it do?
The scriptures tell us, “Charity suffereth long and is kind.”
So instead, I choose to be grateful that they cared enough and had the courage to stand up to those less fortunate, to those who might be being bullied! I thank them for it, and gently explain my situation. We both walk away with positive feelings instead of negative feelings of embarrassment (on their part) and anger (on my part).
What kind of example would I be to my children if I got frustrated with people who were trying to understand my life? I would teach them that it’s not a worth the risk to try to ask others about their situations, and my children would never be able to empathize with others.
There is no possible way for us to understand another’s situation without them telling us about it! How could we possibly understand what someone “might be going through” without it having occurred at least once in our imagination? The stories I’ve seen as a CASA worker (volunteer with foster kids) are things I never could have thought of in my dreams (or nightmares, as the case may be).
So can we all please just agree to choose to not be offended?
Can we please be open with one another?
Can we encourage questions and in return offer patient, honest answers?
I think the world would be a much happier, friendlier, safer place if we could.
And then maybe there won’t be a need for any kind of “what not to say/do” list at all. Because we chose to control our own emotions instead of trying to force our wishes on the masses.
Another version of this post written by Tiffany is on Saving Talents.