If a sentence begins, “Well, at least YOU…” you can bet your sweet bippy that it is a comparison that aims to show the speaker in greater need or pain than the listener.
“Well, at least YOU know some of the people at the party. I don’t know anyone.”
“Well, at least YOU have a job to complain about. I can’t even find work.”
“Well, at least YOU have a kid who tries to get good grades. I can’t get mine to care.”
You get the idea. There are some people who always seem to need to rank higher on any “scale” of life being discussed. Kristen Wiig’s Penelope character from Saturday Night Live is the queen of “one-upping”:
YOU WILL HAVE TO CLICK ON THIS LINK TO SEE THE VERY FUNNY VIDEO OF PENELOPE BECAUSE NBC AND WORDPRESS ARE MAKING MY LIFE DIFFICULT.
Most of us are not Penelopes. (Thank God!) But I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been guilty of occasionally one-upping someone—even another’s pain. For whatever reason, we sometimes feel the need to have our own situation acknowledged as primary. Maybe it’s rooted in the frustration of feeling unheard, but…no matter what…it’s annoying. And it’s super annoying when it’s about another’s pain or loss.
Within the year after my dad died from his battle with cancer, another family suffered the loss of a husband and father in a car accident. My mother was friends with the new widow, and she offered her comfort in her time of loss. I will never forget the woman’s response. She said, “Well at least you were able to say goodbye. You knew your husband was dying, and you had that time with him. I didn’t. Mine was gone in an instant.”
You know in cartoons how sometimes a character gets hit or mowed down and then they get up and try to briskly shake off the effects? That was my mom. She eventually replied, “Yes, I did have that time to say goodbye. But I also saw him suffering for months, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
I remember sitting there and wondering what the point was of this “grief contest” that the widow created. Both women lost their spouses. One got to say goodbye. The other didn’t. One’s husband suffered at length. The other’s husband was gone in a flash. Was there a prize for greater loss?
It was unfortunate that what should have been two people coming together in pain that they each understood all too well instead became a “Oh, yeah? Well, my grief is greater” conversation.
Clearly the widow was hurting and trying to make sense of things, so we have to put the conversation in that context and give her grace, but…it really stuck with me.
Clinical psychologist Susan Silk created the “ring theory” to illustrate a simple way for people to know how to avoid saying the wrong thing to someone going through a crisis. It’s completely common sense, but we are not always led by common sense now, are we?
In a nutshell, comfort moves toward the center (the person in crisis or pain), and any kind of comparing or complaining can only be shared with someone in a larger ring.
This theory allows for the widow of my story to say whatever because of the loss she is suffering, but since my mom was in the same boat, they were pretty much together in the same ring.
It’s not rocket science to understand that you shouldn’t tell someone who just lost a job that your boss is a real d-bag, but…sometimes we do.
Or if someone is sharing with you that they feel a certain way to cut in and say, “oh, yeah, me too! For me it’s like…” but…sometimes we do.
Or if someone is going through something as horrific as the loss of a child to say that we understand that loss because we’ve lost a parent…but…sometimes we do.
We are so very human, but we need to fight the urge to chime in and one-up one another.
We all know our own struggles best. After all, we are the ones going through them. It makes sense that we would feel most intensely about them. But that’s how it is for everyone.
Very often the ideal response to someone going through a challenge or crisis is so very, very simple: Listen. Listen so well that they feel heard.
It is so simple that sometimes it feels like it’s not enough. I need to do something. I need to help them or give them advice. But it is often perfectly enough. And if it’s not, the person will probably let you know.
Listen so that they know what they are saying matters to you. That they matter to you. It’s pretty impossible to say the wrong thing listening. The whole being quiet thing really reduces your chances of doing so.
Listening is a practice that is ongoing with every person and every situation. It’s never the same twice. But it always matters.
Want to rank high at something? Be an amazing listener.
At least that’s what I heard.
10 thoughts on “No, I’m Pretty Sure I Rank Higher”
This totally hits home Lisa!! I used to be such a good listener, like back in the day I was the person everyone called on the phone (with a cord!) to talk about their problems until 2am, but somehow life and busy-ness and stress (and smart phones and social media etc etc) have made me so harried that I find I kind of suck at listening now. I need to practice! And remember. As someone who’s parents died pretty young, and who’s been a bystander for a lot of shittiness, I know both sides of the “what on earth do I say” dilemma, and I completely understand that when people say “oh me too” or “this is like that time…” they are probably just trying to empathize, even though it doesn’t feel like that. But I agree, just saying I’m sorry and lending an ear and a shoulder are your best bet! xo
I agree that people are usually trying to connect with their “me, toos.” And, really, unless you’ve had a few balls of crap thrown your way, it’s often hard to know what to say in certain situations. Thank God for grace! And…I totally heard your comment, Mackenzie! 😉
Love this reminder
to listen more and to
talk less! Especially when
someone is going through
a great loss. Especially.
My dad just reminded me that the letters of LISTEN jumbled around spell SILENT. So simple. So helpful.
Love it. ❤
Best advice ever. I need to buy a roll of duct tape!!
Beautifully spoken Lisa … and … from a heart that clearly listens with love. Thank you for an open invitation to consciously abandon the need to ‘one up’ in a mindless, maladaptive effort to empathize … or …minimize another’s pain when are in the depths of despair ourselves. Re-blogging this compelling read on my site. Warmest regards and much gratitude, Karen
Thank you so much for your kind words, Karen–and for the reblog! It’s greatly appreciated. ❤
Reblogged this on Miracles! Your Center for Well-Being Inc. and commented:
I just had to share this post … from a thoughtful and compassionate writer … who speaks from a heart that clearly listens with love. She wisely and kindly offers us for an open invitation to consciously abandon the need to ‘one up’ in a mindless, maladaptive effort to empathize … or … minimize another’s pain when are in the depths of despair ourselves.