How Not To Say The Wrong Thing

Posted: December 5, 2013 in Uncategorized
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RING THEORY

Our words count.  They can bring life and healing or pain and death.  All too often well intentioned people say the wrong thing when trying to say the right thing.  How do you know what to say? On April 7, 2013, Susan Silk and Barry Goldman wrote and excellent OP-ED piece for the Los Angeles Times entitled:  How not to say the wrong thing.  I quote it below in its entirety.  The above diagram is from that article as well:

[Silk, Susan & Goldman. (2013). How not to say the wrong thing. Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2013.  Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407]

“How not to say the wrong thing:

It works in all kinds of crises – medical, legal, even existential. It’s the ‘Ring Theory’ of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out.

When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan’s colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn’t feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague’s response? “This isn’t just about you.”

“It’s not?” Susan wondered. “My breast cancer is not about me? It’s about you?”

The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie’s husband, Pat. “I wasn’t prepared for this,” she told him. “I don’t know if I can handle it.”

This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan’s colleague’s remark was wrong.

Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. 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. 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.” ”

There is a chapter in my book entitled: “Have You Ever Grieved?” (Barnett, 2012).  It outlines the phases or stages of grief in a way similar to Berk (2014), but not the same.  The then 39 year old widow who wrote the forward to that book helped me see that grief is not linear.  It is more like a spiral (p. 126). We always circle around to the hurt and the loss, but the question is, “Am I spiraling up or down when I do?”  As we are privileged to counsel or come along side others in their loss may we always learn how to help them spiral up and may we always be aware of their pain.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

There is a chapter in my book entitled: “Have You Ever Grieved?” (Barnett, 2012).  It outlines the phases or stages of grief.  The then 40 year old widow who wrote the forward to that book helped me see that grief is not linear.  It is more like a spiral (p. 126). We always circle around to the hurt and the loss, but the question is, “Am I spiraling up or down when I do?”  Let us help people spiral up by comforting in.

References

 Barnett, Robert. (2013). Stand near without falling in. (coming alongside the dying and those

             they leave behind). Charleston, SC: Real Life Ministries, Inc. ISBN-13 978-0615754154.

(Available through Amazon.com)

Silk, Susan & Goldman. (2013). How not to say the wrong thing.

Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2013.  Retrieved from

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

Comments
  1. Jay Leatherman says:

    Hi Bob, We have a small men’s bible study every Monday night at the Sorensen’s.  We have been using Jesus’ example and Pastor Len’s sermons as a basis of our study.  The thought has been expressed that we can include people the life of Christ and the kingdom by merely expanding the circle of people with whom we share our lives….purposefully including them in our friendship, fellowship, love, joy, peace, concern, sharing, encouraging, comforting, prayer CIRCLE, with open arms. I for one find it very exciting. Several of us in the group have had the experience of asking people the most innocent of questions (like the checker at Jewel if he/she has to work the holiday and expressing sympathy), and having people open up their lives to us. …. or of going out of our way to notice people that serve us (like going to Porky’s and buying their biggest, best barbecue meal and sharing it around the table with the guys – all strangers – roofing my house – and asking Porky’s’ owner – and finding out – how his business is doing, in the process ) and having people open up their hearts and and lives to us.  Then along comes your new post which fits right in, but with a new twist (although it seems you have shared it with me before).  I was wondering if you would come to our group for a half-hour little workshop on the diagram.  At present the group consists of Paul Souchek, John Carol, Dan Sorensen, Scott Hopkins, Dan Webb, Ben Choitz and me.  No slackers there.  We all would love to have the insights this ring theory of comfort might have to offer, as we all struggle with fear of saying too much or not enough or the wrong thing.

    As part of the body or Christ, please seriously consider sharing a small piece of your time and expertise and heart with us on this subject. Thanks, Jay

     

    There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.  ~Louis L’Amour~  

    >________________________________ > From: Real Life Ministries USA >To: jayleatherman@att.net >Sent: Thursday, December 5, 2013 5:40 AM >Subject: [New post] How Not To Say The Wrong Thing > > > > WordPress.com >reallifeministriesusa posted: ” Our words count.  They can bring life and healing or pain and death.  All too often well intentioned people say the wrong thing when trying to say the right thing.  How do you know what to say? On April 7, 2013, Susan Silk and Barry Goldman wrote and ” >