Sunday, May 24, 2015

Things You Should Never Say To a Person Who Is Trying to Be Nice (And Things You Should)

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was diagnosed with hyperemisis gravidarum. In other words, I threw up day and night for months, unable to keep anything down for more than a few seconds. Eventually I got a picc line and was put on a 23 hour IV nutrition solution called TPN. Even though I wasn't eating, I still threw up around the clock.

Everything made me vomit but especially seeing food, the fridge being opened, the smell when something was being microwaved, and dreams about food.

During this time, many people tried to help. Some of them tried to help by suggesting anti-nausea remedies (Seabands, ginger tea, smelling a lemon, hypnosis). Some suggested reasons HG may be happening to me (it was all in my head, it was Robert's fault, I'd let it get out of control, our new house had too much new carpet which was probably releasing chemicals into the air and making me sick). And one doctor subtly, but clearly suggested a solution (abortion).

Despite my explanations about food exacerbating the problem, people still brought me food. One person brought in houseplants so they could clean the air. Someone else kept me supplied with lemons to smell. And, when I was finally well enough to sit through church, one guy asked me, "Are you able to keep food down now?" every single week, even several months after my baby had been born.

It never would have occurred to me reprimand these people for making an effort to be kind. In fact, when I felt well enough, I wrote every single one a thank-you note. Did some of their attempts miss the mark? Sure. But it wasn't their failures I was paying attention to. That was secondary to their effort to do something. From my own experience, I know that doing something is not always easy.

So why do we have the myriad lists floating around the internet with titles like "stupidest things to say to someone with cancer," "things never to say to a person with anxiety," or "things you should never say to a pregnant woman," or a black coworker, or a daughter, or someone who hates her birthday, or a creative person or even (and I promise I'm not making this up) "things never to say to someone?"

Sure, these lists tell me what not to do if I want to be sensitive in a particular situation, but they also provide painful reminders of how many times I've said the wrong thing, even with my heart in the right place. Beyond that, they focus only on the negative behaviors and seem to mock the very people who are trying. They make me want to never say anything or get involved with a struggling friend again.

It takes so little effort to become offended. It's much more difficult to consistently see the good in others. More challenging still to do so when someone has said something unintentionally unkind.

How do you know if people are trying to be nice or are really trying to hurt you? Remember, people are usually dumb before they are malicious. Just assume that you are dealing with a good person who is temporarily afflicted with a little Dumb, and be kind. Instead of focusing on how they're offending you, why not give them the benefit of the doubt. Why not show a little grace.

Yes. Let's bring back grace.

Imagine a world where every time we said something dumb, or felt stupid, and wanted to hide under a rock and never come out, someone was there to recognize our good intentions? What if worked to build and love each other? What if we weren't mocked when our efforts to reach out to others fell short, but were lovingly cared for and enlightened?

If you find yourself struggling with what to say to someone who has just been insensitive towards you, but who is a little clueless, try some of these phrases:

1. Thank you.
2. You are so nice to think of me.
3. I appreciate you taking time for me.
4. You are so thoughtful.
5. Thanks for sticking by me.

No more silent seething and passive aggressive list-making when people aren't being nice to you. They are being nice . . . just not very well. Don't punish them for it.