An interesting op-ed was posted a couple of weeks ago called the Ring Theory.
The author argued that when someone is in a crisis – of any sort – you can draw a circle with various rings and that, essentially, there are principles of how one should interact with people in various levels of the ring.
While I don’t agree with the piece entirely, as it tends to be more me-me-me focused than I’m comfortable with, but a lot of it carries some truth.
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.
Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support.
So say, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘This must really be hard for you’ or ‘Can I bring you a pot roast?’ Don’t say, ‘You should hear what happened to me’ or ‘Here’s what I would do if I were you.’
And don’t say, ‘This is really bringing me down.’
In other words, if you’re interacting with someone going through a hard time, the goal should be to help, think about what you say before you say it (and whether what you say is going to provide comfort or support), and don’t turn it around and make the person feel badly about answering honestly.
They then expand those same principles to not ‘dumping in’ to people in circles closer than you are either.
While I’m sure largely well-intentioned, you really wouldn’t believe some of the things people have said to me (or others) in the middle of a prolonged health crisis – in other words, the person in the center ring. I could recount dozens of instances where even what the author of the Ring Theory said “almost nobody” would do that have happened, even just in the last few months.
Almost nobody would complain to the patient about how rotten she looks. Almost no one would say that looking at her makes them think of the fragility of life and their own closeness to death. In other words, we know enough not to dump into the center ring.
Ring Theory merely expands that intuition and makes it more concrete: Don’t just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.
I do agree, though, with the idea that ‘dumping’ into those people just outside the center of the ring isn’t any more helpful. It only adds to the number of people feeling awkward or wrestling with their own questions not unlike those I expressed in my post last week.
This whole issue has become a hot topic of late, in part because of a book just published – and getting a good deal of publicity – entitled How to be a Friend to Someone Who’s Sick.
The two articles below are also worth a read, whether you’re currently one who is dealing with an illness (or someone close to you is) and want to pass along some tips to others around you or whether someone you know or love is. And, really, at some point or another, everyone falls into at least one of those categories – if not both.
- How to be a Good Friend to Someone Who is Sick (the article/interview)
- How to Really Help a Sick Friend (from Real Simple magazine)