Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Empathy

When I tell people my kids have extra learning and behavioral
challenges, there are two common sets of responses. One is "no,
they're fine" (if they know my kids; or "I'm sure they're fine" if
they don't). The other is to tell me about their own kids, or kids
they know, who were slow early but then more than caught up. The goal
of both of these types of comments is to be reassuring and helpful, so
I don't begrudge or discourage the sentiments.

But their intent makes them no less hard to hear as we endeavor to
fight for resources for our kids. After all, part of our current
frustration is convincing those who can provide us with resources that
our kids are not fine, and that absent extra instruction they won't
catch up. Such statements can also tend to diminish the hardship we
are going through, as if we are exaggerating our childrens' issues to
dramatically lament how difficult it is to raise them.

As a problem solver, I have been guilty of making similar comments to
a variety of people in response to a variety of challenges they have
confided in me. Though I learned long ago that empathy ("that must be
difficult") and interest ("tell me, what is that like") is far more
useful to than dismissals ("no, it's not that bad") or solutions ("you
know what you need to do is . . . "). yet still I often fail those who
come to me with their problems. So I don't judge when others are the
same with me.

But I do hope we can all be more understanding of the struggles each
of us face, and help each other bear them. It's far better to deal
with life's challenges by acknowledging them and getting help to
overcome them, rather than dismissing them and falsely assuring
ourselves that they'll go away on their own.

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