22 July 2013

Comfort in, dump out

This weekend I read a FANTASTIC article from the Los Angeles Times called "How Not To Say The Wrong Thing" by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman.  It's about how not to be a discouragement when someone is in a situation of serious illness, grief, trauma, bereavement or difficulty.  It is called the Ring Theory.  You can read the full article here

Quoting directly from the article, the Ring Theory works like this:

Illustration by Wes Bausmith from here
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma...  Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma... Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones...

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

Comfort in, dump out.  That is, you find your spot within the circles and then you offer only words or actions of comfort to anyone further in than you.  If you need to dump on someone, you do that with those further out from your spot.

What is dumping?  It's saying things like...
   I couldn't believe how awful he looked.
   I felt sick seeing him in hospital.
   I hate going into hospitals.
   I don't agree with some of the decisions the family is making on his behalf.
   He is taking a long time to get over this.
   I saw him the other day and he looked fine to me.  He's just putting it on.
   I remember when my neighbour was in that situation.  She...(blah blah blah)
   I remember when I had a similar problem. This is what happened...(blah blah blah)
   This whole thing is really putting a dampener on our lives.
   Do want to know what I would do if this was happening to me?
   Are you still dragging yourself around?

Or doing dopey stuff like asking someone closer to the centre to look after your kids for you all weekend so that you can get away for a bit because the whole thing is getting you down.

The point is this.  Your aim is to not make things harder for those further in than you.  If you are struggling and you're not the person in the middle you should set out to find the support you need from those who are further from the centre and probably feeling stronger than you are, so that you can be strong to comfort and support those who are closer to or right in at the centre.

Comfort in, dump out.  Good thinking.


Deb said...

That's an incredibly concise and clever way of putting it! Wow. That's really helpful.

Meredith said...

It's SO VERY helpful. I've been thinking about it a lot since I first read it. Of course, it requires discipline to put in into action. Much easier to dump than to comfort. But maybe awareness is a helpful first step.

Sarah said...

I love it. Sooo very helpful. I was glad to see you posted it on Facebook as well. :)

Liz said...

Thank you, it does give a clear way to think about one particular situation. But what to do when practically everyone close is at or near the centre of their own circle... who to ask for help? Thank God for his grace, even through others who are suffering.

Meredith said...

Thanks Sarah. Yes, I think this diagram needs to be put on a billboard in some prominent position!

And hi Liz. Thanks for dropping by. That is a great question that you ask. The Ring Theory certainly isn't a "one size fits all" thing. And it doesn't take in how God works through suffering - those experiencing it and also the observers. In fact, it doesn't bring God into the equation at all. As you say, it doesn't say what to do when there are of lots of people in the centre. And very, very occasionally, tough love applied with great care and wisdom can be called for.

But I do like the reminder that it isn't always about me. I think we all need to hear that sometimes. Maybe even lots of the time. Praise God for His grace and that He has His sovereign hand on all things.