Friday, September 16, 2011

"It could be worse" are not words of sympathy

How many times have you heard the words "It could be worse"? How many times have you used them yourself? Worse still, how many times have you added an example of how things could be worse?
I'd like to propose that is just downright rude.
Take for example the current economic problems in our country. How many people out there are suffering from these tough times, and can do absolutely nothing about it? Except maybe complain. So they do complain- they lament that gasoline cost them so much, or that they can't take their kids on vacation, or any of a number of other monetary problems.
Should you really open your mouth and spew out "At least you've still got a job- things could be worse."
No. No, you should not.
Think about that last time your kid was crying in the store, demanding a toy and you told them no. For me, the answer I say no is usually because it's not in our budget and that our house is bursting with toys. We can't afford to buy the kids a toy every time we go to the store and they don't really have anywhere to put any more toys. But kids don't understand that- they don't see the difference between you buying stuff for you or the house, and not a toy for them. It's one of those things you have to teach your kids that really tries your patience.
So it goes like this:
Kid: "I want a toy!"
Parent: "No."
Kid: "I WANT A TOY!"
Parent: "No."
Kid: "Why not?!"
Parent: "We can't afford it." or "You don't need any more toys."
Kid: "But I need a toy!" or "I don't like my toys!"
Can you imagine if at this point you told your child "Be glad you have what toys you do have. There are kids in Africa with no toys. Or food. It could be worse- you could be like them."
A teenager might understand that logic. A twelve year old might. A five year old definitely won't. But whether they understand it is not the point. It's not what they want to hear.
"It could be worse" doesn't exactly ring sympathetic in any situation. I know the old addage "look for the silver lining" can be helpful, but you don't have to say it that way.
Think about it- why does anyone complain? To get comfort. Maybe in the form of that Barbie on sale, maybe from compassionate understanding from the person they are speaking to.
When my kids come to me with some complaint, or they are sad, I don't tell them "it could be worse". Or "suck it up". I listen to them, and maybe give them a hug, or a bowl of ice cream or something else to cheer them up.
Telling someone "it could be worse" is not comforting. Telling them "well, at least you've got your health" might be comforting, but probably not. Be like a bartender, or a therapist and just listen. That's all anyone really wants- someone to listen to their belly aching. It's even acceptable to chime in with your own, similar woes. Just make sure to acknowledge the other person's plight. Hugs or ice cream are optional.

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