I know I’m not the only one to have done this: Someone you know is going through a hard time. You, in an effort to make them feel better, make any myriad of statements which can essentially be boiled down to one:
“It could be worse!”
Them: “My mom’s really sick and the doctors don’t yet know …”
You: “But you have access to really good medical care – in some countries, she’d just have to suffer …”
Them: “It’s really hard, having to leave my baby in NCIU …”
You: “You’re close by, though! Some people live hours away and possibly can’t even see their child every day …”
Them: “There’s just so much going on at work right now, and there is talk of moving or shutting down our office and …”
You: “Let me tell you about my day …”
Them: “If anything could go wrong this week, it has gone wrong …”
You: “At least you’re not living in a war-torn country where everything has literally gone wrong …”
And I get it, I do – I understand wanting to help someone feel better, not wanting to remain silent. I also know the common belief behind the ‘it could be worse’ statements is they are helpful. We’re just helping the other person keep things in perspective, right? Reminding them in the grand scheme of things, they’re not having too terrible of a go of it, you know?
Yes. Sometimes. Sometimes we – and I – have been in situations where we do need to give our heads a shake and remember all the good that is around us and in our lives. That there are people who would gladly exchange their struggles for our own, so mild are they in comparison.
But other times … other times we are pouring salt on wounds and don’t even realize it. We’re telling the other person, more or less, they shouldn’t be feeling the way they are.
Sometimes we are the ones who need to take a moment, to realize we don’t need to immediately move into ‘fix it’ mode. Sometimes, the best and most helpful thing we can do is to listen and empathize.
In Pixar’s 2015 film Inside Out there was a scene which illustrates this beautifully, where the character of Sadness was able to bring comfort not by trying to tamp down or distract someone from their sad feelings, but instead by acknowledging the feelings and their validity:
That scene still makes my eyes tear up. And it still reminds me of the admonition in Romans 12:15 to “Celebrate with those who celebrate, and weep with those who grieve …” Because sometimes a listening ear and a comforting, “Yeah, that’s rough” can be just the thing to help heal a heavy heart. I know when I’ve been on the receiving end of that sort of response, it has often done my heart so much good.
So may we all remember this: Sometimes, we just need to let others know they are seen, and heard, and valued, and loved even when things are rough. To let them know they’re not alone or wrong for feeling the way they are in that moment.