Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How not to say the wrong thing

Step #8 of Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life" is "Check How We Speak to One Another." This op-ed from the Los Angeles Times is a brilliant formula for speaking to those who are suffering.

It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory. 
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie's aneurysm, that's Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie's aneurysm, that was Katie's husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan's patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring. 
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings. 
When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn't, don't say it.   Read the whole article here

1 comment:

  1. This is a very unique approach to dealing with problems and helping others through it. I am currently going through a tough time and found this to be very useful. I know that listening is often more helpful than talking and sometimes its more difficult to do than you think. Putting it out there in black and white puts everything in context and really does help. Thank you to whoever thought of this!