This has been something on my mind big time. The way we show community and strength in numbers is amazing. I’m blessed to be surrounded by men and women who come together when one of us goes through illness, death and loss. Any type of loss. We have grown as a family of friends and have had each other’s back on more occasions than not. I’m very proud of my friendships and what they represent. But…… I sometimes feel that my friends and I run to the side of another friend to show support, love and togetherness. And inadvertently end up showing some pity too.
Pity, even though if you look it up in the dictionary is next to empathy and compassion and remorse and regret, is a word that somehow has made a close association in my mind with pathetic. Like something we show to people who are pitiful and pathetic. It’s hard to tell when we are employing pity versus sympathy but being cognizant of the effect we have on people is definitely a good way to tell.
Feeling sorry for someone or feeling bad for someone is natural. Very natural when you feel that they’re going through something adverse and uncalled for. It’s easy to go into pity mode. It’s very common to use words to portray your deepest feelings of understanding and love. Those words, when usually should provide strength, sometimes convey something demoralizing. They can tell someone that we think they’re at a disadvantage. That we feel sorry for them. And that we think they got the shorter end of the stick. And “oh poor ye!”
To be honest, pity wouldn’t come through if we weren’t feeling it. Humans tend to feel blessed or disadvantaged by comparing themselves to others. The quality of contentment that Islam requires so much in order to keep us grounded is somewhat scarce. Because we compare ourselves to people more in times of adversity, sometimes we can become a little full of ourselves. We can forget that what someone is facing today can be our fate tomorrow. Nature performs selection on everyone. It’s universal. We just don’t appreciate it until it happens to us.
Also, no one (almost no one) shares their problems to start a pity party. When someone shares their problem, it’s usually to create a bond or find a solution.
Pity alienates us. Imagine feeling like our friend pities us. Would we like that? No way! That would immediately turn us off and actually would remove the human quality from commiseration and empathy.
I have realized after years of saying the wrong words what some people hate to hear when they’re in the middle of a crisis.
May be you have more but I avoid saying the following for death, divorce/break ups , unemployment, infertility, delay in getting married, loss of any type or financial problems.
1. Death is natural. When someone close to our friend dies it is usually enough for our friend that we are there . Mention nice things about the deceased. Say encouraging things to your friend. Gauge how much they wanna talk about that person. Ask about what you can do and if you can help with bringing food. Asking how finances are going to happen is déclassé and not our business.
2. Be kind to divorced people. Asking details of how what happened is the single most heart-breaking thing we can do. Be there. Offer to bring food. If you feel your friend is up for it, get them out of the house for a bit. Be their friend. Don’t be the divorce attorney and try to find all the details. If you have some important suggestion to make that’s time-sensitive, email or write a letter. Save your friend the embarrassment and pain of requesting you to stay away from their business.
3. Be kind to kids who lose their parents. Asking them if they miss their parent is cruel. Take care of their food. Bring them over for play dates. Share some responsibility like carpool with the remaining parent.
4. Someone has a miscarriage, please don’t match your miscarriage history in detail. It is enough to say you get it and have been there. Ask for food. Text often. Offer to care for the other kids if any. Don’t pity them openly if they don’t have any other kids. Respect this as a tender spot.
5. If a friend goes through a break-up don’t update her or him all the time of their ex’s social media updates. They broke up for a reason. They need to be away from each other. Your live broadcast won’t let them move on. Learn to respect their feelings.
6. Someone loses a job should not be asked what happened unless they open up. Don’t pity them by recounting all the interviews that they failed before landing this job that they’ve lost. Be there like a rock. Support them in their job search.
7. Don’t say things like “how are you going to live now?” This isn’t cool to say. It gives off a dire vibe. Don’t use sentences that reflect anybody’s perceived pathetic-ness. This is actually a most ill-mannered statement.
8. Don’t express pity about your friend to others. Like ” I feel so bad for her”. Don’t talk about someone’s misfortunes with others. It’s private and sacred. It’s not supposed to be discussed.
9. Don’t say “Allah Shukr I have been saved from so and so” when you hear of someone else’s bad time. There are many times to thank Allah including this one. But not out loud. Be thankful Allah protected you but be sad that your friend got a bad deal.
10. Lastly, be humble in giving condolence or support or empathy. Don’t give it benevolently, perched high on your horse of your perceived magnanimity, looking down at your friend. Become one with them to feel them. Until then, stay away. That’s better than using crass words that would demoralize them.