Thursday, April 25, 2013

Drive-By Platitudes–Life Saving or Life Draining

A colleague of mine issued a personal cry for help on social media over the weekend (see repost note at bottom of blog).  It wasn’t an obvious one – he is too proud for that and hasn’t learned that there is nothing wrong with asking for help.  However, it wasn’t too difficult to read the signals contained within his posts.

Given the nature of his request, it was the responses that he received that struck me and it made me realize this:

If you are ever seeking additions to your collection of clichés and platitudes, hover around the social media watering holes where people are asking for help.

You’ll find everything you need there.

The sad part is that people don’t realize that offering up a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or a “things can only get better” doesn’t help someone in need.  In fact, when Life is squeezing someone hard, the “go get ‘ems” are as likely to drag them deeper into that which mires them down as they are to lift someone up.

Yes, they can help someone feel like they’re not alone but that isn’t always enough.

Sometimes the person in trouble is in so deep that they can’t “hear you” and needs more than pithy platitudes.

How do I know?

Because I was there once.  And at that point in my Life when I thought the bottom was falling out, the platitudes around thinking positive and such weren’t resonating.  Perhaps if I hadn’t fallen so deeply into my self-analysis, self-doubt and self-criticism, wondering how I had arrived at the situation in question, then the “words of wisdom” may have meant more to me.

However, I had long passed the point of those words meaning anything and many of them left me feeling cynical at the time, having helped so many people in my years and seeing that the best that they could come back with was a “you’re smart, you’ll figure it out”.

It’s not until one has been pulled from the mire that one realizes that there IS truth in the words.  But we also learn through experience that the power and truth in those words of inspiration can only really be understood by someone after they have survived the gauntlet that was dragging them down. 

Having overcome our challenges, we also know better than to casually hurl the same phrases at others.  We know that if the other person is feeling crushed, they may not feel the power in the words that we intended them to feel when we so cavalierly tossed out encouragement in a tweet or a Facebook message.

In my situation, it took a combination of hard work, luck and the help of others to lift me out of it.

That’s the way Life is – anyone who says that they turned their Life around without the help of others is lying or deluded.

That’s not to say that we can, should or must help everyone.  There are many times that we can’t or we shouldn’t, based on many factors unique to every individual and situation.

However, if the person in trouble really needs help, you want to help and you are able to help, don’t offer an off-the-cuff “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers” or some other collection of words that help you feel that your two-second drive-by inspiration has fulfilled your obligation to your fellow man.

That’s like yelling out to the drowning man that being alone in the water and feeling like he’s drowning is the best way for him to learn how to swim or that convincing him that he can run a marathon makes perfect sense even though we haven’t helped lift the mental or physical “elephant” off his back first, thus enabling him to run the best race he can.

Sometimes what is most important is a helping hand and not a demonstration of your mastery of clichés.

And sometimes instead of a demonstration of your mastery of clichés, all the person needing help wanted was for someone to listen.  Many people who have thanked me over the years, after my suggestion that I had done nothing that I could see, indicated that to have someone listen was what they really needed.

If you have really “been there and won”, then you know this already.

Someone you know (or maybe don’t know) is waiting for a hand-up today (not a handout).

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,


* Reposted from July 16, 2012 (with minor modifications) by special request (many of them).

Additional thought:

For those of you who love “successory” posters, I offer the following item from the great folks at Despair.Com. :-)

If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job.  The kind robots will be doing soon.

I am reminded of an exercise I participated in some years ago when we were paired up and asked to listen to our partner’s problem but we were NOT allowed to interject with observations, attempts to solve the problem, platitudes or any other comment.

It was a humbling exercise that reminded all of us present that while we may feel obligated to solve someone’s problem in the best way we know, that may not be what the other person is asking for or needs.

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