Saturday, February 18, 2012

Refusing the Script

In reading an assortment of magazines on life and parenting, I have noticed a big trend in people wanting to provide scripts to living.  Over and over, I stumble across articles written by PhDs who wax philosophical about all the proper things to say (and not to say) to people experiencing a host of issues including  death, infertility, disease, pregnancy, autism, and divorce.

For the record, I have said many stupid things in my life. I am usually trying to convey empathy, but I'm sure I fail more often than not. I try to understand the needs of the person who is experiencing pain, and then I say something that I think might help. On the days I've mucked it up, I do sometimes wonder if I should have just memorized one of those sociologist's scripts after all.    

But I can't shake the notion that quoting from a mental health journal's bulleted list of accepted words is not really genuine.  Many of the directives assume a one-size-fits-all approach. They fly in the face of how many of us handle adversity and sorrow. What might comfort one person might also enrage another. So we use our best judgement, take a deep breath, and make a few mistakes along the way.

In my life, I have experienced death, divorce, risky pregnancies, autism, and disease. When I review articles on acceptable things to say, I can't help but laugh. There is really nothing that resonates with me whatsoever.  What I do remember helping me through times of trouble is the fact that somebody bothered to try to ease my pain.  No matter how awkward.  No matter how clumsy.   

I come from people who say a host of inappropriate things to get through the worst moments of life. We make each other laugh. We tackle the big monster in the room head-on and refuse to offer the usual garden-variety murmurs of sympathy. We don't tip toe around the obvious pain or suffering. We acknowledge it. We offer whatever prescription medications we have in our purses. We volunteer to go beat someone up.

I know this approach doesn't work for everyone, but rarely will you find the use of humor in the Sensitivity Patrol's guide to masterful and appropriate phraseology.  I get that it is not everybody's accepted method, so I don't use it a lot.  But it's mine, and none of the experts will ever tell you, "Just make Marianne laugh...or buy her a big drink."  And just as I appreciate the efforts of my friends to offer comfort to me in all their varying styles, I would hope that others accept my own verbal clumsiness as a misguided token of love and support.

If my own friends and family started reading from a sociology journal, I would recognize it immediately.  Likewise, when my religious friends offer prayer and my irreverent friends offer  liquor, I know that the effort is real and true to who they are.

We don't always get it right.  More often than not, there is nothing we can say that will help. The bigger issue is that we are there, saying stupid things, because we love you.


  1. I so appreciate this post. It seems like in almost everything, there's an expectation that we all tiptoe around trying to be "correct". Not that I think we should walk around being offensive, but being genuine is almost never offensive. Thank you for such a great post.

  2. really nice piece, marianne.


  3. What did you say this time?

    Marianne's anonymous friend who sounds mean and snarky, but is always kidding. I think I was just born in the wrong country.

  4. TangledLou - thank you for the support. The genuine sharing of emotion, for me, is where I find comfort. Appreciate your reading!

    SF - Tell that to my husband.

    MOV - Thank you, MOV! I'm always a little nervous when I veer away from funny, but I was just in that kind of mood. You understand. (:

    Anonymous Snarky Friend - the world will appreciate your genius one of these days. I swear.

  5. Here, here. Great read, Marianne.

  6. So true! I would much rather hear someone fumble through their own words, than speak something rehearsed flawlessly. It is so hard to see a friend hurting, but the best thing we can offer sometimes it seems is to be the friend they love. Such a great post...wish I could've said something better to comment! :)

  7. You've saved me from the pit of despair with your purported ill humor. And as soon as you leave I want more of it.

    I love you


  8. In two different situations, two different sets of friends, I have experienced death. (Stillborn to a friend, and death of children in a car accident to the other set of friends) After so many years they both say the same thing "it is the people that don't say anything at all who drive me crazy. I just want them to acknowledge it happened,and not to pretend it didn't" I too have fumbled my words in situations, but like you said Marianne, the people close to you will know fumbled or not, it is from your heart (or from your meaningful fumbled little heart)
    Nice Post- and I'd buy ya a drink if you ever needed one, or I would put my foot in my mouth in the most sincere way. A drink may taste better than a foot.

  9. Well said Marianne, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Brilliantly written.:)

  10. Kelly - thank you!

    Andrea - thank you and I like what you wrote. Who wants to hear a flawless rehearsed speech when you're seeking human connection? Give me clumsy! I like clumsy! It means you get it.

    Megan - I am so glad you never take anything I say the wrong way. I suppose it's DNA and the fact that we come from people who just aren't very smooth. xoxo Dork

    JR - a drink sounds fabulous. I'm so sorry about your friends. I had an aunt who lost a baby to cancer, and she said the same thing - she didn't want people to pretend it never happened. She wanted her child acknowledged, not ignored. Clumsy is so much better than silence.

    Lily - I worry about going off on rants some days, but I so appreciate your kind words. Thank you!

  11. Yes, honesty always the best policy and laughter the best medicine. Knowing someone cares - priceless.

  12. This is an awesome post. I, never fail, am the one who always manages to say the wrong thing... usually it's the truth that gets me into trouble. My sister is always fast to call me and tell me this thing that happened and when so-n-so calls don't say what she thinks I would say LOL don't tell Dad what you really think.... don't tell cousin betty her baby looks like an alien. I've learned to just listen.... and keep my thoughts to myself as long as I can. I wish everyone could handle a laugh or a drink as a distraction. Actually, I think there should be a bar at every funeral.

  13. My Garden Blue - Amen, sister. A bar at every funeral would be genius. I'm glad to read I'm not the only one who gets "edited" now and then by others. (;