By Jenna Lindman
Have you ever found yourself in a tough situation: let’s just say you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. You go to tell a loved one about your diagnosis hoping for support and they respond with these words instead: Be grateful.
Let’s flip the situation. You are approached by a loved one and they tell you some not-so-good news. Let’s just say they’ve told you they have cancer and you respond by saying, “Be grateful.”
That sounds ridiculous, right? Or, at least I hope that you think it does. You wouldn’t say this to someone as a reaction to terrible news. You wouldn’t tell a friend to “be grateful” after their mother had a stroke, or maybe if their dog was paralyzed after being hit by a car. You wouldn’t say, “be grateful,” to yourself after just finding out your grandfather passed away. Or any situation dealing with something painful or difficult.
Or would you?
I’m willing to bet that at some point, you’ve told someone to “be grateful” for whatever else they have left after a tragedy (I myself am guilty of this). I’m also willing to bet that someone has told you the same. I’m going to guess that after being told to be grateful, you actually didn’t feel that grateful. I’m going to guess that after being told about how grateful you should be, you didn’t feel so good. That, perhaps, you felt guilty or shut down or ignored.
This is why I will not tell someone to be grateful anymore. I have come to witness, with others and myself, that being reminded of the things they should be grateful for disregards what a person is dealing with.
I totally understand that the “being grateful” statement is meant to be well intended. No one is trying to neglect feelings, people are trying to be helpful. I know that sometimes it’s hard to find the right words to cheer someone up. But maybe instead of trying to offer someone advice, all we need to do is listen and be empathetic. We need to worry less about what our response is and be more concerned with how we are listening to others and being with them.
Gratefulness is something that a person must come to on their own. It’s not my job or anyone else’s to enlighten someone on how grateful they should be. I am reminded of words from Benjamin Franklin, “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.” The majority of the time, someone is not coming to you to be reminded of how grateful they should be, so please don’t offer that as consolation, it’s likely they will not feel more grateful. A person finds gratefulness from within themselves. I don’t know if there is a correct way to deal with hard information, but I do know that all of us can try to listen better and be present. Sometimes, that’s the best support you can give.