Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"There's Always Someone who has it Worse than You"

Next Tuesday I am having minor surgery. I have always liked the definition of “minor” surgery as “a surgical procedure performed on someone who is not you.” I have every reason to expect a positive outcome—my surgeon is an old friend who assures me that he is reviewing his 1973 anatomy textbook and that he plans to practice on a rat or two before cutting on me. Still I can expect to be sore and grouchy for a few days, and will not be permitted to lift anything heavier than an onion for the next several weeks.

Anticipating this bit of unpleasantness has brought to mind the sentimental platitudes we too often employ when a friend is dealing with difficult circumstances, including the one I particularly detest: “There is always someone who has it worse than you.” That may be true, but I have never found it comforting or helpful. If I am hurting, grieving or anxious, what I need from a friend is sympathy and support. When a friend says “someone else has it worse than you” it feels like I am being called a whiner. Don’t compare me to other people! Just be my friend!

Then there is the version that goes “I was sad because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Fair enough, I suppose. Given a choice between having no shoes and having no feet, I am pretty much going to go for the “no shoes.” But doesn’t basic human compassion require us to provide footwear to the person with no shoes rather than telling him about the guy with no feet?

Furthermore (he said, warming to his topic), if there is a guy who has it worse than me, then logic insists that there is a guy who has it worse than the guy who has it worse than me. And when I find that guy, there will be a guy who has it worse than him. Sooner or later you get to the end of the road and find the one guy in the entire world who nobody has it worse than. What do you say to him when you find him?

What you say to him is precisely what you should say to any friend who is hurting. “I’m sorry. I care. I’m here for you.” Don’t try to put your friend’s burden into perspective. Simply offer to share that burden. That’s what friends do. That is what we are here for.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I will volunteer to come over as a friend and gather your fallen leaves while you are sore and grouchy!


word said...

I think you say to him, "Man, I'm sorry about how things turned out Pauly Shore, is there anything I can do for you?"