Sometimes, life feels like one big game of Hungry Hungry Hippos and we’re the little balls, and we get swallowed whole. Sometimes we feel like the Hippo. And sometimes we feel don’t even feel like an old game board game. And those are the hardest times of all.
But when we’re down, there’s things we need to hear and things we don’t. These are the worst things to tell people when they’re going through a bad time.
1. “It’s going to be okay.”
Why should this upset anyone, right? But doesn’t it just? Like in the worst way? Remember the last time you felt utterly hopeless about something and Chippy McChipperson got your face and said, “Hey man, it’s gonna be okay.” Did you actually feel any better? Or did you get even more annoyed thinking, “How the fuck do you know it’s going to be okay? Where’s your crystal ball, Professor Marvel? What do you mean you don’t know who that is? Haven’t you ever seen The Wizard of Oz? Yeah, I know the witch has a crystal ball, no shit, I’m talking about the guy Dorothy sees in Kansas, the fortune teller who tricks her. What do you mean you don’t remember that part? Why are we even fucking arguing about this? Stop telling me to lower my voice! We’re in Arby’s, I didn’t realize there was a super special code of conduct for elegant behavior!” Or maybe that’s just how it goes with me. Anyway, my point is, if you’re going to tell someone, “it’s going to be okay” you better follow that up with a solution (“It’s going to be okay…because I have a job for you!”) or a damn good hug, or it’s just empty words.)
2. An example of how much worse off they could be (“There’s children starving in the world” “At least you’re not homeless” “My friend’s cousin’s wife died.”)
Say this to the wrong person and you find yourself in a game of the oppression Olympics. Sometimes people aren’t ready to look at things in perspective; they just want to feel sad, and telling them how much worse it could be usually goes one of three ways:
- They say something sarcastic like, “Oh I’m sooooo sorry I don’t have a dead wife like your friend Rigby. Fuck me for not having a dead spouse to mourn. Man, it’s really too bad my imaginary wife is alive and well.”
- They try to prove to you that they’re actually worse off than the examples you’re giving, no matter how ridiculous they sound. (“Oh yeah? Well at least homeless people don’t have to worry about moving out of their apartment they can’t afford and finding a new place and possibly a storage unit and being a big disappointment to their families unlike their rich brother Rigby. At least homeless people don’t have anything left to lose.”)
- They say, “Yeah, you’re right” (this one never happens).
3. An anecdote about something that happened to you that’s only vaguely similar to their situation.
I get the thought process with this one. You want to show empathy and that you understand, but no two experiences are the same and when people try to relate by sharing a similar story that isn’t similar enough, they wind up embarrassing themselves and possibly offending the person who’s hurting. For example, Jessica, losing my grandma to emphysema was absolutely nothing like you losing your favorite pair of shoes at Sundance. Thanks, though.
“So, what then, should I say?” you’re probably wondering. Nothing. You just listen. You just listen to them pour their tired little hearts out, no matter how stupid their problems are (assuming their problems aren’t really really stupid), you nod, you make noises that let them know you’re listening (“awww” “m-hmm” “oh no she didn’t”) and you hug them and if you say something you say something like, “I understand this is a sucky time for you and I am very sorry” and you better damn mean it. And if you add, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” you better mean that too, and maybe substitute “anything” with something more concrete like, “Let me know if you ever want to talk again, just call me” or “Let me know if you need a happy hour, my treat” and you follow-through because sometimes we’re the Hungry Hungry Hippo and sometimes we’re the ball and being the ball sucks and we all need to be there for each other.
Unless it’s Darryl from marketing, in which case, fuck you, Darryl. I know you took the doughnut.