Not a contest

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.
Dale Carnegie
1888 – 1955

I don’t know about you, but I can remember hearing parents tell kids to clean their plates because “children are starving in India”. (Africa was often cited as well.) It was meant to make the kids appreciate the fact that they had food to eat, but it rarely had the desired effect.

There’s a similar technique some people employ with adults. When a friend or family member expresses dissatisfaction or disappointment, a counter-example of a worse situation is immediately posed. Unhappy with your job? You’re lucky to have one. Don’t want to clean your house? Some people don’t have a house to clean. While not every response is that blunt, the implication is clear: you shouldn’t complain when others have it worse than you do.

This trend probably started with good intentions. It seems like a variation on the practice of “counting your blessings”: attempting to shift focus away from disappointment and towards gratitude. And I’m sure some people do use it in an attempt to provide perspective. Unfortunately, it’s much like telling kids about starving children overseas: it rarely works.

Humans aren’t robots. We experience emotions, sometimes intensely — and dismissing or ignoring those emotions won’t make them go away. In fact, ignoring or discounting them can make a person feel worse.

There’s been some backlash in the past month against people upset over canceled trips, proms, and graduations; many argue that these aren’t real problems compared to job losses, business closings, sickness and death. And while I agree that a prom or a trip isn’t worth the risk of spreading a deadly disease, it’s also important to remember that disappointment is human. People should be allowed to feel sad about their losses, whether it’s a canceled school event, a missed vacation, a lost job, or a lost loved one. We don’t need to a have a contest to see whose loss is the most serious; grief isn’t a zero-sum game.

Everyone has a right to feel grief and disappointment without being shamed because “someone else has it worse”. Remember to give yourself space to experience your feelings of grief and loss, and allow others to do the same.

People in grief need someone to walk with them without judging them.
Gail Sheehy
1937 –

Copyright © 2020 John Chancellor and Cheryl Chancellor


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