Sympathy is a crime and so is empathy, go figure!

Author’s Note: I got a lot of feedback on this article and apparently it’s not the words but the ‘tone’ that the statements were made that was hurtful. Condescending, judgmental, dismissive etc. these are the emotions that infuriate and offend. No one has a problem with genuine emotions, which should have huge doses of respect for the individual if not unconditional love. However, the superior attitude or the ‘know it all’ attitude that most carry around them is what irks most when going through a crisis. Then there is the bunch who when emotionally troubled hate to bump into the ever smiling, flower smelling, diddy singing optimist. They have an emotional range far wider than just happy or sad and they find obsessing only about these two extremes vexing. While I do not understand that, I get it, I really do. We all have the right to feel whatever we do and it doesn’t need to be justified to anyone. My optimism infuriates another and their morose outlook baffles me, perfectly fine, it’s all part of being human. The confusion, the hurt, the misunderstandings, the passion, the trauma and all the drama, that is what is life and such is the journey we are forced to traverse and not always with our consent. 

An 1894 painting by Walter Langley
An 1894 painting by Walter Langley

I was reading an article and I was surprised to find two comments that were listed as hurtful.

“You should pray!”

“Relax, it will be all right.”

The mention was from someone who was facing a personal problem and had listed all the comments that well-meaning friends and relatives had often touted when made aware of her plight, before a doctor was called in for proper diagnosis.

The reason these two comments stirred me is because I mouth them, quite often and it shocked me that people would find it hurtful or offensive. I agree that they are not diagnostic in nature but one comment asks that we seek help from God, the one who raises the dead kind of powerful and the other is to ease the stress and the pain, a sort of don’t be too hard on yourself.

The only way I find it hurtful is if one recommends praying to an atheist and if a doctor quips that one should relax instead of offering proper advice or medication.

I can’t image the opposite to be recommended.

“Don’t bother praying it’s hopeless!”

“Yeah, you’re right that does sound like something is terribly wrong with you!”

Makes me think that maybe when people are that sensitive perhaps they shouldn’t talk about ‘problems’ to friends and family and seek medical counsel instead. You can’t possibly expect ordinary well wishing family and friends to be updated on all the latest medical conditions and ailments. If I have a friend who calls me up saying she has a headache, my first rhetoric will be to ask if she has taken any panadol and my advice to her will be to relax and take it easy. I won’t be mouthing recommendations for an MRI, CT scan or start drumming about blood clots in the brain or tumours. Does my general assumption that things are not catastrophic make me insensitive and rude? Sorry for my optimism.

It brought to mind an incident a few years back. I had met a woman at a parenting session she remarked that her son did not start speaking until he turned two. I told her that neither did my son and we never had any reason to worry. She was offended with my comment, staying that I was ‘not helping’ by telling her that it was OK, her son apparently has an issue that needs to be dealt with. I apologised but I kept shut about letting her know that people only relate information that they experience themselves, what course of action she takes for her son cannot be based on what other people have experienced but instead on her instinct as a parent and on the recommendations of her doctors.

My point being, only you know the depth and extent of your situation. Family and friends can support you in whatever decision you take and can offer advice that they would apply on themselves, they cannot offer medical or legal counsel (unless they are qualified to do so) and it is wrong for you to expect otherwise. If you take a wrong decision because you choose to accept an advice from a friend or relative that was wrong, is it really their fault? In this day and age when the Internet abounds with information, how hard is it to Google a query and come up with all the various issues relating to your condition. To speak to a few friends and base life changing decisions on their counsel is foolish and placing the blame on them for any wrong decisions taken, even more so.

Seriously speaking when was the last time anyone actually did what parents, friends or relatives, recommended? We all know an Aunt Bertha who wanted us to become a doctor or an uncle Jim who felt being a charted accountant was the way to go. How many times have friends told us not to date so and so or to seriously stop doing something, for our own good and yet we have ignored their advice time and time again?

Regarding being hurt or offended, when one faces a sensitive issue everything gets perceived in the wrong light. Even common sense can seem rude and insensitive. If you comment you can get perceived as nosy and if you don’t you get labelled as someone who just doesn’t care. Apparently the rule is only those who have personally undergone that particular crisis has the right to comment.

To all the people who were hurt when asked to pray about a crisis in their life, are you guilty about something? Do you feel that bringing God into the equation means that you are going to be judged or that you are being punished?

Let me clarify, God is love and he does not punish, unless you are a dictator who has killed thousands and often they live long happy lives and people tend to lament, “why is God not dealing with him/her?” Asking God for help does not mean that you are going to get judged or that you have to account for all your sins. All it means is that if all fails, he is always there and he is quite merciful.

To all the people who were upset about being told that all will be well, next time seek out the pessimistic lot, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

In lieu of the new information the aforementioned article has brought to light, my new comment to all queries from friends, family, strangers and everyone in general will be, “Seek profession advice, I am not qualified to comment.”

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