“I hope you get into a car accident and die”…REALLY???

polar plunge 3

By Kenneth Justice

~ I was sitting at a coffeehouse a while back when a friend of mine called; he’d been going through a nasty divorce, “Kenneth, last night my wife told me, and I quote, ‘I hope you get in a car accident and die, it would be better for the kids’ “he said

Of course, sitting in a crowded café and listening to someone tell me over the phone that their wife wishes he would die can make for an odd experience. After all, at the café I was sitting at so many people seemed happy; a few college students were studying, a 20ish couple in the corner looked like they were on their first date, and a number of the regulars were sitting at the common table enjoying each other’s company……and yet through the receiver of my cell phone I could hear the anxious voice of a man suffering through the bitter throes of a dying relationship.

Be happy with those who are happy and mourn with those who are mourning

Working as a counselor at the rehab clinic was often very trying on my emotions. In any given day I might have to sit with a client who was experiencing the highest levels of joy and then twenty minutes later find myself sitting across from someone who would be telling me they wished to die. Emotions are very intense among people struggling with and trying to overcome chemical addictions; life at the rehab clinic often felt like being on an emotional roller coaster.

When I was younger I used to read a lot of books about changing the world and changing people. I wanted to make a difference in the world so I’d gravitate toward titles like “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and “You can make a difference”. And as I look back on those years of intense studying, I realize that much of my focus was on me; too often I viewed other people as ‘clients’ that I needed to fix; friends, relatives, acquaintances……I believed I was god’s gift to humanity sent here to change everyone for the better.

Be happy with those who are happy and mourn with those who are mourning

After I graduated with my degrees in psychology and counseling I thought that I had arrived. I mistakenly believed that now I was ready to spend the rest of my life in the profession that best fit my personality; psychotherapy. I was wrong. It’s not that I was a bad counselor, actually the majority of the clients loved me and had nothing but good things to say. But after each day came to a close at the clinic, I realized how little I could help these people……I realized how little anyone could help them.

Whether someone is struggling with chemical dependency, problems with their significant other, or any other interpersonal problems…..there is no human alive that can simply ‘fix someone’. At best, a counselor, therapist, pastor, or priest can sit with you and listen; they can be there for you. But there is no great pearl of wisdom which can be spoken to you that will make all your troubles disappear.

Be happy with those who are happy and mourn with those who are mourning

Did your spouse just tell you they hope you get into a car accident and die? There is nothing I can say or do for you that will make your situation turn from shitty to spectacular. There is nothing that anyone can say or do that will make your problems simply disappear.

And even though we may not understand why we have to suffer through difficult times; in the end there is almost always a purpose to everything. Gail Sheey said “To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist” and that little bit of wisdom really resonates in my heart. Because often times it is by going through difficult times when we experience massive spurts of maturation in our life.

Be happy with those who are happy and mourn with those who are mourning

One of the things that I have learned in recent years is that while I can’t ‘fix people’, I can listen to them. I can be there for them; I can be happy with those who are happy and mourn with those who are mourning. That’s not simply what a good therapist does; it’s what a good friends does. I used to be obsessed with trying to tell people what to do. Before they would finish telling me their problem I had already formulated my solution. But now I’m trying to learn how to bite my tongue…..and let people be.

Whether it’s our children, friends, acquaintances, or relatives; people need to figure out solutions to their problems on their own. They don’t need me telling them what to do. Perhaps, there may still be times when I should give them a gentle nudge in a certain direction; but the older I get in life the more I realize those times are less and less.

Just a few thoughts as I drank my coffee this morning,


If you haven’t heard I’m on a 100 coffee house tour visiting with readers and bloggers all over the Western World. I will be in Chicago this weekend. Check out my homepage for dates and locations.


Categories: relationships

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108 replies

  1. Hate to say it but your view on therapy is too pessimistic. Because therapy can actually help people change their lives. I have seen it! I see it everyday. It won’t fix someone, that’s beyond its scope. Having said that, therapy focuses on the individual and can do very little for things like systemic injustice, homelessness, poverty, discrimination, the legal system etc.

    • Specifically in the context of chemical dependency & therapy;

      Study after study finds that there is no evidence that rehabilitation clinics, therapy, counseling, etc. provide any significant impact (for the good) in a clients life.

      One study in particular by Dr. George Valiant, “evaluated how well his patients were doing two years and eight years after treatment, however, he found they had fared about as wells a comparable alcoholics who received no treatment at all” –natural history of alocholism p. 124

      In every one of my classes in college while studying addictions counseling, I never had a professor cite a success rate in chemical addictions counseling higher than 8%. The percentage of people who overcome alcoholism without counseling is no less than 8% and in many cases higher.

      There is a growing body of literature that suggests rehabilitation clinics actually perpetuate the problem of chemical dependency.

    • Your candor is refreshing.

    • Nice read

      I would think it depends on the context of the situation, one’s personal definition of therapy and in what manner one wishes to apply it.

      Any friend of mine would be hesitant to offer me advice when I am deeply troubled unless I asked for it. That would be to simplify a big problem and if you do it at the wrong time or in the wrong way you could damage the relationship. You might know the correct answers and you might have even been there yourself, but you can’t make anyone feel like you want them to feel.

      If its about dependency issues, you really don’t need much help. How many times do you need to be told that something is bad before you quit it? Probably an unlimited amount of times as long as its not what you truly want. Have you ever had a violent allergic reaction to a certain food? You probably did not need any counseling to help you stop eating it.

      Most clinics and rehabs know they can’t really do anything. So what do they do about it? They profit from it. Have you heard of these newer rehabs being advertised? They’re like hotel resorts and spas which make it appealing to visit even if you are not an addict. Most rehabs have repeat customers and I’m sure these resort type ones do too. Some people go back to rehabs again and again because they’ll find sympathy and community with other people who share similarities in a safe zone which is more disposed to compassion rather than judgment. People share war stories and battle scars and sometimes meet good enough friends that they both agree to leave there, meet up and relapse together.

      I smoked habitually for almost ten years, gave it up cold turkey. I drank coffee habitually for almost the same amount of time, and when I found out I was starting to get undesirable side effects, I quit that cold turkey too. Both were actually quite easy to do once I made up my mind. Sure I was tempted multiple times but insofar as I ignored the cravings, I was successful. As long as a person is both honest and willing, I believe he/she can overcome any such vice they’ve managed to get themselves into, including negative personality traits like excessive anger. In my opinion, the best way is to do it by yourself. The lessons you learn and the self control you gain can translate into every aspect of your life and turn you completely around and into a successful person. From a low life street licking drug dealing addict to the most amazingly inspirational person you’ve ever met in your life. A lot of people look down on addicts, but I see them all as fertile ground for great success.


  2. I read once that 75% of patients going to see their doctor just want to talk and have someone listen.

    I think it’s true.

    Sure, you can throw in the odd word or two. Perhaps…..”I’m sorry to hear that.” OR “It must be very difficult for you.”

    But basically, a good listener is hard to find – one who is objective – non-judgemental – compassionate.

    Healing sometimes comes through the sharing of a worry, not necessarily the solution (of a worry). There are many medicos in this world, but very few Healers.

    • “I read once that 75% of patients going to see their doctor just want to talk and have someone listen”

      More and more studies are finding exactly what you wrote; people simply want someone to listen to!

      “But basically, a good listener is hard to find – one who is objective – non-judgemental – compassionate”
      It is so tough to find a good listener! Most people simply want to talk and talk and talk

  3. I would ask the dude if there was anything he could do to ease the woman’s suffering . . . obviously she is edging over . . .

    • ‘she is edging over’

      Yea clearly!

    • What a refreshing view. Yes, the wife seems to be struggling, hurt, and lashing out. It’s nice that some people can recognize a cry for help instead of seeing evil where there is just pain.

    • The husband needs to stay away from her entirely! Is she at her tipping point? Sounds kinda like it and seeing him and ( in her mind) him having the audacity to give her advice may just end in his early demise! The wife needs to see a counselor for sure but let the suggestion come from one of her girl friends!

  4. Beautiful article with several important ideas. I, too, wish I’d learned sooner not to try to “fix” others. My first two marriages were largely based on that effort after the initial period. But I know better now. Also, I don’t think it’s possible to overemphasize the importance of just listening. One of the reasons I admire and love Papabear so much is that he is capable of doing exactly that. In fact, he’s so good at it that strangers tell him their problems surprisingly often. I am incredibly lucky to have such a companion and role model.

    Thank you for this. I hope some readers who need it really “hear” it.

    • Your example is so good for people who have a failed relationship into their past; they can cling to the hope that there is still someone out there for them that will be ‘just right’ (you mentioned ‘papa bear’ and it reminded me of goldilocks and finding the porridge that is ‘just right’)

    • Ha! I love that! And yes, he is!

  5. I used to be one of those people who would love to give advice when someone came to me with their grievances. I think my current relationship changed that. Sometimes, when my boyfriend is down or has had a bad day, his explanation makes no sense to me. I have no advice to offer him because I don’t completely understand why he’s so down. Even though I can’t always make a situation better, I still serve a purpose. He still needs me there to hold him, to vent to and to just be present with him in that moment. It never occurred to me how powerful those simple actions are.

    Sometimes, I think people are just looking for others to share their burden. Like your friend, who told you what his wife wished for him. Now, he’s not really alone. Now, you are sharing his burden with him, helping him to stand with it on his shoulders. Maybe that’s enough to allow him to move forward with life.

    • “Sometimes, I think people are just looking for others to share their burden. Like your friend, who told you what his wife wished for him. Now, he’s not really alone. Now, you are sharing his burden with him, helping him to stand with it on his shoulders. Maybe that’s enough to allow him to move forward with life.”

      Exactly! I could be totally wrong, but I believe 98% of the time that is what people are looking for, its what they really want 🙂

  6. A year or two ago, my now 16 year old son told me he wanted to just tell me something, but he didn’t need me to fix it. I took it to heart, as I am a fixer, and after his story, I told him that sometimes I don’t know if he needs to just vent or just tell me, or if he wants my advice. We decided that it would be okay for me to ask him “Do you need help with a fix or do I just need to listen?” It helps us both out because while I am a “fixer”, that’s not always the answer!

    • Yea, ESPECIALLY when it comes to children this can be exceedingly tough for sure.

      My daughter the other night asked, “what time should I wake up tomorrow in order to make it to the appointment on time?”

      I said, “I dunno, what do you think?”….

      to which she frowned and said, “Dad! Just tell me what time I should wake up!”

      and I said, “sweetheart, you need to figure out how much time you need to get ready, I can’t tell you”

    • Perfect !

      (when my brothers and I asked questions relating to any subject when we were little, my Mother, as Dad was usually away, used to say go look it up in the encyclopaedia – lol – now we 3 adult siblings have full libraries of books in our homes”.

      Even today, every time I read a new word, I Google it. We 3 siblings are used to working out our own problems now.

    • “Do you need help with a fix or do I just need to listen?”

      yep…good question

    • Thanks! I’ve found it to be very valuable!

  7. As always..love your thoughts…
    True we cannot fix another…can barely fix ourselves..and yet sometimes we have to walk away..even from one we love..to let them see things…
    We seem to be brought into another life so they can see things..and then reflect back on yourself…
    I like that..it helps fine tune me..
    But it sure sucks..when you have to leave…
    And mourn with those who mourn…
    And sometimes to find your own laughter again….

  8. Having been a mental health therapist for 25 years, I can tell you that “fixing” others just doesn’t work. Therapy is mostly listening and, Yes, pointing in the right direction. I can’t speak for chemical dependency therapy, as this was not what I did. I learned a LONG time ago that with family and friends, one only listens. Even when asked for an opinion, I will only give it if I am sure they want to hear it, and I ask that question! Even then, I temper my response.

    • Thank you so much for your candor; I’ve talked with a lot of mental heath therapists and some people like what I say on this topic, others don’t……… ultimately, I suspect its the one who agree with me that ‘we can’t fix other’ people that usually like what I say 😉

    • I was in the mental health system for over 25 years… I wish I’d had more counselors/therapists with your attitude.

    • Hey Jak, i finally took the time to go into my settings and change the font size for ya; now they all stay the same 🙂 sorry it took so long….. its not an exaggeration to say I’ve been a bit busy 😉

    • Not a problem, Kenneth… I actually hadn’t directly noticed, but now that I look again, yep, I see it now. It really makes a difference, yet I guess the best solutions tend to “blend in”. Thanks for making this change for me; things are much easier to read now and I’m going to bet a lot of your other readers appreciate it too.

  9. Reblogged this on Indian Saffron.. by prenita dutt and commented:
    Some insights that only come with time are understood so well here, in this blog…

  10. I have been in mourning. One woman who I had shared my concerns with in the past knew very well that I would be very upset. Every other day she would contact me and simply say. I was thinking about you. I wanted to send you my love. When I was ready I went to visit her. She offered me a “hot beverage” (Sheldon Big Bang). We talked about hope. How you get through despair. We shared a happiness in the here and now. From that day forward I have been released from the regret of what could have been done differently. In some way I believe I was “fixed” spiritually simply by another person’s compassion.

    • “When I was ready I went to visit her. She offered me a “hot beverage” (Sheldon Big Bang).”

      Oh that put such a smile on my face! (Big Bang Theory is one of my guilty pleasures 😉 )

    • Kenneth I love it so much my kids think I am one of the nerds. His mamma is a good Christian woman. She taught him to give a comforting cup of tea. It soothes the frazzled nerves. Bravo to all human beings who offer real compassion. It is a connection that no fancy therapies can compete with. I don’t need to know why I am f*@ked up I need to hear there are tools to see me through.

    • Yea, Sheldon is me and my kids favorite character 😉

  11. Good article Kenneth.

    My experience has been that after listening to people express their problems, they often know the solution without me saying a word. Sometimes I’ll just ask them,
    “So, what are you going to do now?”….and then listen some more….

    ~ Dave

  12. I love the quote from The Merchant of Venice where Portia claims she could easier give great advice to twenty people than to be one of the twenty and take her own advice. Often times we find that giving out advice is the easy part. And we fall in to “fixing” people. All we can do is to help guide them along their own journey. I suppose that’s why I despise Dr. Phil. He preaches and “solves” people’s problems as a charlatan. In actuality, I would venture he’s making things worse.

    I had no idea the stats were so low on the counseling business. So are counselors simply trained in the art of listening?

    • So its a touchy subject because the majority of psychotherapy is convinced counseling works splendidly. But when you open up research journal articles on the subject there is data that supports my thesis. But when you’ve got government money backing your program; and it has to be run a certain way in order to keep getting that government money,…… lets just say there is a lot of comprise going on.

      There are plenty of psychological models (especially community based models) which demonstrate higher success rates but you simply can’t get the government money to start them…….

      Money, money, money drives so much of our economy.

      Take for instance education; lets say you Miss Dewey have a better idea when it comes to ‘doing school’ and your theory of education involves an entire overhaul of the way things are currently being done. unfortunately you need money and resources to get your theory implemented, and most money in education is only allocated towards programs that we currently have.

    • Do you know what all I could do if they let me shut my classroom door with the simple instruction of “Get these kids ready for college and/or life”? First thing, those kids would learn to fall on their butts and get back up again.

    • Yup, its the problem with the governmental structure which we are all under; anyone who has a new idea or ‘better’ idea can’t really implement it because of the powers that be. The red tape involved in changing how we do things is simply too frustrating, so all I can hope is to influence future generations, so that as they take positions in authority they can change society for the better.

    • I agree completely.

  13. I wholeheartedly agree that no one can ‘fix’ another person. Yet, there are ways a person can guide someone in a positive direction, but as you know addictions are simply symptoms of a larger issue, no matter what the addiction is, drugs, alcohol, food…. etc. A person has to be ready to move forward, to dig deep to find and evict the demons that reside in the soul and no one on the outside can fix it. Answers to perplexing life drama’s are within, they are not ‘out there’ somewhere. So, as a friend, the best thing to do is listen.

    I am saddened for your friend, as I know the horrors of divorce and yet there is light at the end of the court-room tunnel.

    • ” person has to be ready to move forward, to dig deep to find and evict the demons that reside in the soul and no one on the outside can fix it. ”


  14. People feel better sharing their stories with someone who responds with sympathy and understanding. One of us can’t change the world but all of us can make a difference.

  15. It is very hard to only listen. Yet, that is often the best we can give to others. Offer them a way to talk and think through their issues. Nudge them sometimes. It is so hard.

    Our oldest daughter just filed for divorce. I empathize. Went through it 35 yrs ago. I hate seeing her in pain. Her situation and details are unique and very unlike mine. I want to offer her hope that she will be able to get through and in better times someday. Hope and comfort is the best we can do. The hard work must be done by them.

  16. That’s a hard lesson to learn, and one I’m still struggling with as a crusty old fart. You’re lucky to have learned it so young.

  17. “There is nothing that anyone can say or do that will make your problems simply disappear.” It is only from within we can initiate change and find our own happiness. Very hard to do sometimes. Harder even at times when you are aware of that….

  18. The lesson that sticks with me the most from my time studying social work was to meet the client (friend, fellow human being) where they are at. It is my belief that everyone is always doing the best they can in that particular moment with the tools they have at their disposal. I also believe that we all have to potential to do better. We can’t change the other person. We can’t always change their current situation but we can help them identify, develop and use the tools available to them. Nobody knows us as well as we know ourselves but we all have blind spots and when it’s appropriate I am willing to point them out. This can be a tricky business however. Sometimes the blind spots are the only thing keeping a person moving forward.

  19. Kenneth,

    You have made aware to so many any people through this post exactly what I have learned, most people just want someone to listen to them. We know what good sound advice and wisdom can do for a person, but it will only help when they are ready to receive it with an open heart and mind. That will only come when they feel someone understands them and how they feel, without the agenda of wanting to fix them. Counseling works, but only when they are ready and willing to be counseled. People care to be understood more than told what to do.

    Thank you for your understanding through living your life for others.

    • “, but it will only help when they are ready to receive it with an open heart and mind.”

      Right, until someone is ready all of this will fall on deaf ears.

  20. Well, I am going to have a slightly different response from the others, and that is:
    Of the numerous times I have been to therapy – having a therapist listen sympathetically didn’t help me as much as the ONE time I talked to a very practical friend (who had a degree in psychology and was a consultant for artists). He gave me some advice on HOW to handle a situation and it worked.

    You see, what I wanted, and continue to want, is advice from someone who better knows how to handle situations than I do, and tell me their methods.

    I am a fixer. I want to know how things work, and then fix them when they’re broken.

    On the other hand, my mom (which is the reason I was in therapy most of the time) wants to tell me her problems and just have me listen, which is extremely hard for me to do. She needs the sympathetic listener. I am not that person and I feel like a phony sitting there listening to her and NOT telling her what I see is the problem right there in front of me/us. And I hope this doesn’t make me sound arrogant, like I have all the solutions, but when I see someone doing the same thing over – I want to suggest to them that they try something different.

    I am trying to learn how to just listen – I know it’s helpful to so many people, and I can do that for some people when I think that is the best thing to do. But I don’t think it’s the answer for all situations.

    • Rhan, I’m totally with you. I’m very supportive of the ‘community’ model of helping people, counseling, etc. Most people simply need a good friend rather than a therapist. And its not that I’m against therapy…. but I feel that if we created better community, than fewer people would need professional help.

    • Kenneth – I agree with you, too. (are we so nice). I think there is a need for both. Sometimes we need a sympathetic ear, and in the course of listening and sharing, often times a solution is presented to the one seeking help by just saying it. Or not. sometimes there is nothing to be done but listen.

      But in my case, skills were needed that I had never been taught, and like going to private music lessons – someone who knows better can just help me know how to “play” instead of listening to me be out of tune.

      Looking forward to seeing you on the left coast.


    • Your mom shouldn’t be turning to you to air her problems. It’s a confusion of roles.

      Beyond that, I do agree that sometimes people actually do want answers. Still, those presuming to give answers will do well to develop a very healthy humility in presuming to know what others need. I’m in the answer business. But sometimes I just plain get it wrong. I either give the wrong answer or answer the wrong question–a question that wasn’t being asked. So then, if the person is still interested in my thoughts and knowledge, it’s my job to figure out what the actual question is, and what response will be helpful to them. And I do my best to realize that once I have said my piece, it’s entirely up to them what to do with it.

    • Dear Lee,
      I can relate to what you are saying about parents turning to their children for help. I admit I don’t know your situation but for me when my Mom or Dad want to talk about a problem in their lives, I’m glad to listen. The difference, maybe is that I am able to speak to them in ways that even my sister can’t without a chewing out.
      I don’t know if this will help you or not but if it were me and one or both of my parents were doing the same things and then coming to me, I would say very humbly, ” The clinical definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over expecting a different result.”
      I would also like to offer to be a listener for you! You must need to vent, so just drop me a line by going to my blog. Oh my mobile is broken, SURPRISE!! : ( But there are other ways listed to get in touch with me.
      Bryan Matthews

    • Lee and Bryan,

      Thank you for your comments.
      Yes, Lee – it IS a confusion of roles. Welcome to my family. (ha ha).
      What I would have appreciated when I was younger would have been for a therapist or counselor to have said, “Look Rhan. Your mom is ___ and suffers from ___ and a good way for your to handle it would be to _____.” That would have taught me to have more empathy for her, AND teach me a way to handle it. Instead it has taken me well into my adult life to start to figure it out – many years wasted in the process.

      My friend and consultant – in ONE phone call – gave me the tools to better cope and deal.

      And Bryan – you are right in that doing the same thing over and over is insane. Without going into any details – that common sense approach does not work. As a matter of fact, I have tried it so many times that you can now say to me “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and excepting different results!”

      I do take all this with a bit of humor though, and am grateful for all I have been through, as I am certain my experiences have made me who and what I am today – artistic, sensitive, and able to help a lot of people.

    • Rhan,

      I have some thoughts, but I’m struggling to summarize them (as I’ve rewritten my comment several times). I noted that you said:
      and like going to private music lessons – someone who knows better can just help me know how to “play” instead of listening to me be out of tune. (emphasis mine)

      You said you had difficulty listening to other people. But yet in this example, if I understood you right, you said you have difficulty having other people listen to you. Did I get that right? See, I was a music education and elementary education student. If the music instructor doesn’t know where you are at, how do they know where to begin their instruction?

      I get that in the beginning, learning “how to play” is important (and I had to learn to play several instruments), but it’s seemed to me that as I gained proficiency, I needed more what I would call “coaching” than just pure “instruction”. Does that make sense?

    • My, but what an interesting conversation we are having here.

      To Jaklumen – I think we are off point here, but I have a little story to relate:

      Once, I was in a trio in San Francisco with a drummer who was an earthy, gentle person. One day while playing, he said kindly, “Does anyone notice a discrepancy in the intonation?” (This was his kind way of asking the bass player to play in tune.)
      The bass player, being clueless, (sorry for the dig) didn’t get the message and continued to play out of tune.

      What would have been better to say would have been, “Check your tuning. You are off.” That would have directly solved the problem, saved time, and wouldn’t have been a bad thing to say. If I am out of tune, I don’t mind someone telling me.

      My point with this story is, that sometimes just listening to someone is helpful. No cures or fixing needed. Other times, sitting there listening when someone is saying, “my roommate is always late paying their rent” is not the answer. The answer might be, “talk to them and explain that they have to pay on time or they may not be able to stay.”

      “Playing the broken record” is a term used to describe someone doing that same thing over and over – as if it’s their life story and they must replay it in perpetuity. I don’t want to be a part of that.

      Ah…. I guess we are venting and listening now, aren’t we? HA HA!

    • Hi Rhan,

      Just a quick follow-up comment to say that I completely agree with you that sometimes what’s needed is answers and expertise. And there are people who actually have good answers and expertise because they are skilled in that area. Finding one of those people to get your head sorted out on a specific issue or problem can make a huge difference in situations where all the empathy and shoulder-crying in the world just won’t do the trick. If you’ve got a broken bone, what you most need is not empathy, but someone who knows how to set broken bones.

      The trick for those with answers is to perceive when what’s needed is an answer, and when what’s needed is a shoulder to cry on. Giving the wrong one in a particular situation is not helpful or constructive.

    • Wow. Your comment is right on. I am trying to form the habit of asking someone, “What is it you would like me to do?” This way, they have a chance to think about their reasons for wanting to talk, and then being able to say they just to be heard, or to say that they need solutions.

      It would also be helpful for the person to know so they could inform the listener the same thing themselves, like: “I just want to vent a little – I don’t really need an answer or solution.”

      And I love your metaphor about the broken bone!

    • Hi Rhan,

      Thanks. Great idea to actually ask people what they want! 😀 People don’t always know, but it’s still good to ask.

  21. one of the best blogs of read about friendship advice

    • with that said, i have two perfect friends AND a therapist that not only listens but i listen to her. we even text, I’m not an addict but suffer from mental illness so I can’t say what counseling means to them or whatever but I saw this as an expression of how people need to treat their friends and loved ones, via mourning and happiness and know that whoever you’re mourning or celebrating with would do the same.

      side note: being a true friend also means being there for the happiness and not just the mourning. they are equally important and its easier and more justified when it comes to mourning but takes even more work to make the time for celebrations.

  22. Being the best I can be. Not telling people what to think or do but to have them think and do.
    and show them the best person I can be but never think I am better.
    I think we inspire more by showing the best of ourself and how we think, then telling people how it is done.

    It is a shame we always think so low of others.. which just gave me a thought.:D Thank you

  23. I think that sometimes (often) people who are enraged, distressed and frustrated lash out verbally by saying horrible, extreme things that they don’t really mean, they just want to hurt the other person and
    to provoke a reaction. Later, in the cold hard light of day, they may be ashamed about and/or regret what they have said (not that they will necessarily admit that). ‘I hope you get in a car accident and die, it would be better for the kids’ must have been really devastating and hurtful for the chap to hear, however he needs to know that it probably isn’t ‘true’ and he shouldn’t take it at face value, and he needs to factor that in to how he reacts. Obviously something has gone really really wrong in this couple’s relationship, and were I the friend of either of them I would listen and support to the best of my ability, but I would also suggest that they try impartial help in the form of a relationship therapist. Friends are great, but sometimes one needs something more.

  24. There’s a difference between telling someone what to do and giving feedback. Without going into detail, I have some unresolved ugliness from my past I’m needing to deal with and that is what’s been plaguing me for the last several weeks. I have some thoughts on the matter but I need someone to bounce these thoughts off of so counseling is something I’m considering – at least a few sessions while I figure out how I can cope with certain issues. I don’t want or need someone to tell me what to do per se, but guidance can’t hurt or like I said, some feedback. I agree – listening and being a support is definitely what a good friend does. Sometimes being a good friend means admitting that you don’t have the right words but that you’re there to listen and sometimes that’s exactly what a person needs. Yes sometimes they’re hoping for pearls of wisdom and sometimes a good friend may actually be able to provide that – to a degree. The real wisdom comes in knowing the difference and going from there. I’m sorry to hear that woman is so nasty to your friend. I’m not sure if he’s made certain mistakes or not but it’s never okay to make comments like that to another human being ever. That really disturbs me. Hopefully it all works out.

    • Jen, well said (as usual) and I hope that everything becomes more smooth for ya, my heart goes out to ya and I know that seasons in life like this for you can be especially tough. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all better 😦

    • Thanks! Me too but you know while I’ve always known it’s the journey that’s important not so much the end result, it’s clearer now more than ever that’s so true. So as much as a magic wand fix would be nice, the process is what is going to be best. It’s all good. It’ll work out. 🙂 No worries.

    • p.s. if I didn’t say it before – thanks for the concern! It’s appreciated. 🙂

    • My experience has been that anything approaching “magic wand fixes” tends to make matters worse. I had to learn some things the much harder way because I had been “rescued” from the reality of some situations. (At least one of my sisters repeatedly told my parents she just HAD to learn things the hard way.) Like the butterfly strengthening its wings emerging from the cocoon, or the baby bird getting stronger breaking out of the egg, I think that we may have to struggle sometimes to gain our own strength and independence.

      p.s. Yes, yes, I do think there’s a difference between telling someone what to do and just giving feedback– my mother and my grandparents (her parents) are “fixers” and have rarely given advice for free (even when they give it freely)… they usually expect it to be followed.

    • Well there is something to be said about learning from others’ mistakes for sure but yes, it’s ultimately about how you learn – if that’s the hard way then that’s how it must be done. If not, then that’s great. Either way, it can’t be forced. That doesn’t work well. I learned a while ago you can’t fix people. You can support them and be a friend or an ear but they have to fix themselves. Just how it is.

  25. It comes in my mind a line from a psalm “Come God and see what is left from humans” (I hope the translation is good) and this is a reply for the woman of for all of us when we cannot stand anymore someone…About fixing matter, it’s relative as something can be fixed or cannot. I would say, we can be trainned but not fixed…

  26. I am not sure what a counselor or therapist is or does, but I know that it can be great to talk to someone.

  27. I agree with your philosophy. I worked for number of years with people who were terminally ill and as you say all you can do is be a friend. In fact being a friend is the best thing that you can offer to people. It should not be underestimated.

  28. I had always taken on other’s problems, and like you, I thought I could “fix” it, or at least tell them what they needed to do to fix their problem. I have since learned that just being there for them is really what they needed. I go to therapy just to have someone to talk to, a third party who is not emotionally involved. It helps a lot. Great post as always!

  29. Lots of food for thought as usual. What resonated with me the most was this sentence: Because often times it is by going through difficult times when we experience massive spurts of maturation in our life.

    I thought I was going to literally die when I was separated from my husband and going through the divorce process. Yet it was during this same time that I grew into myself, realising that I could stand on my own two feet and survive without a spouse, as well as ably look after our young son. I also think it’s useful to ask people when they share if they want you to fix their problem or just listen. I never considered that before but plan to ask that question going forward so I can set the right tone (for lack of a better way of expressing it) for the conversation. Thanks for serving these deliciously wonderful ‘thought’ meals … hmmm hmmm good 🙂

  30. I love this post! As a teacher I always have to remind myself of this. Then the question comes up, why am I doing it then? I’ve come to realize as well why I became a teacher in the first place. I’ve had to do a lot of reflection as to why I continue.

  31. Speaking as someone that psychology was also my major, I can relate to everything you said in that blog! Then after being saved by the blood of Christ Jesus I was called into guidance which some might think would be easier, UMMM WRONG! It’s much harder but there is an abundance of peace when I put Bryan on the sideline and let God speak.
    Much like you I thought, and honestly still battle with, “I have to FIX this person!” The Holy Ghost is quick to remind me that I have NO power and that my position in the body of Christ is only to listen, give the person what the Scripture says and LEAVE THE REST TO GOD!
    As for your friend on the phone I’m sure you let him know that people don’t really mean what they say 60% of the time and when emotions are aroused people don’t mean 99.999% of what they say.

  32. listening/validation – fixing, us fixers. Thanks!

  33. Very wise indeed. Listening to others allows them to find their “truth.” Beautiful!

  34. Sage advise, but I don’t agree with the concept of lending a listening ear at ALL times; there are times when the situation calls for different actions; wisdom dictates how you apply it.VW

  35. So what the hell is the use of counseling? I mean, I always felt awkward when meeting with my counselor but truth is, I needed to be asked some questions that eventually led me to see ME. Otherwise, Andy and I wouldn’t be together today. It was about me seeing me for ME and not believing my own delusions (that I was perfect and he needed to fit into the mold I had set for him.) My brother sees a sponsor now and I don’t think he would make the changes without the 12 step program and AA meetings and isn’t that essentially group therapy? However, it is very confusing for me when you step out of a 3 session counseling situation. I mean… I don’t know. I’m soooo up in the air about it all. – the wifey

  36. Kenneth, good to know you are completely burnt out yet. You make a beautiful scriptural point:
    “Be happy with those who are happy and mourn with those who are mourning”

    I am passionate about listening. That doesn’t mean I don’t think counselors are needed.
    There are people in this world who cannot find someone who will “really” listen. Listen with their eyes looking into your soul-with their mouths zipped and without judgement.
    It is so rare that people will pay to have someone pretend to care.

    In reference to the previous person: “What the hell is the use of counseling?” I believe there is a need for counseling. Counselors who are skilled can not only offer feedback but they can help one strive to meet goals, teach one to overcome the negative spiral and offer encouragement. Many who seek counseling need help building self esteem after devastating ordeals like the man mentioned in the first case.

    I found it quite interesting to learn that the NICE or National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends CBT in the treatment plans for PTSD, OCD.

  37. Listening definitely is the key, something I have also learned over the years, sometimes people don’t want your opinion or don’t want you to fix their problems. They just want someone to talk to someone, get it out of their system and based on the experiences even I have learned to go with the flow – ” Be happy with those who are happy and mourn with those who are mourning”. Great post.

  38. There is great power in listening, and it helps you avoid “foot-in-mouth” disease.

  39. Hi Kenneth,

    A challenging thought from my own spiritual tradition:

    God is the only teacher. Even though it appears that we teach one another–as it should–in reality it is always only God who is teaching our listeners from within. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be teachers. Only that we should realize that when we “teach” people, what we are really doing is providing them with raw materials that God can use to provide them with the actual teaching that they need along the path of life. We may provide some conceptual stones and mortar, but God builds the house of understanding.

  40. Reblogged this on Stuart Wood's Weblog and commented:
    Very wise words. It’s often when we feel weakest or least-well equipped that we can be used. Sometimes the best help we can be is people knowing that we are there & care for them if/when they need us. Sometimes the greatest wisdom is needed in choosing to be with them or give them space. Often we make the wrong decision but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

  41. You and I walk a similar path in this regard. I ran through the same thought process and result in terms of helping vs. listening. I am much better at listening now and I find that if I listen long enough to those that I still think could benefit from my “sage” advice, eventually, on their own and when the time is right…they will ask. 🙂

  42. “Be happy with those who are happy and mourn with those who are mourning”

    “…and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort…”
    (Mosiah 18: 8,9, The Book of Mormon)

    Any connection? 😉 To be fair, the context here is Alma talking to the people at the waters of Mormon, asking them if they wanted to be baptized. But speaking more broadly, I think this can be understood as advice for expressing godly love, at least as to the God of Abraham, if not so much others.

    I remember a blessing I received once from a good church brother– I was told that God rejoiced with me, and cried with me. In the highs of my joys in the blessings I have received, to the depths of my pains and sorrows, this is indeed my experience.

  43. Oh Kenneth, you hit the nail on the head with this one. I have one friend in particular who has consistently asked me “What should/do I do?”. Previously I would tell her what I would do, or think I would do in that instance, but lately I’ve completely moved from that and simply say, “You have to figure that out on your own. Listen to your gut, your instinct.”

    Your life, your choice; your mistake, your success. No one else’s.

    Love reading your words. Thank you!

  44. “Be happy with those who are happy and mourn with those who are mourning”
    Notice, being happy and mourning doesn’t involve talking. When someone asks my advice on something my first response is, “Tell me all about that.” Then I listen. Many times, they answer their own questions or at a minimum understand they need to make a choice themselves. Change involves ones own choices. Many never get there and don’t change … that’s their choice!

  45. As I person who believes that every time a person shares a struggle with me, it is my calling as a friend/human being to solve it, this is a message that I need to tattoo on my forehead. Thank you.

  46. Your post came at a timely juncture for me, really. It reminds me to hold my tongue more when my children speak to me and listen rather than jump to fix or teach. What they hell do I know anyway I think after I look at my life. I don’t know about the mourning part, that is hard to do authentically if you don’t have the grief but being happy when people are happy is a wonderful way to live. Thanks for entertaining me yet again.

    • Just a question, you said you don’t know anything about grieving with other people because “that is hard to do authentically if you don’t have the grief”. Empathy is being able to understand how someone feels even if you have never experienced the same situation. My question is: Are you able to empathize with someone who lost an arm, had their child die, or lost their home in a storm, etc. although I assume none of these has happened to you?

    • You said it, understanding. Take math – I understand 2 + 2 = 4. I have children, I understand love for them. I understand geometry, but I do not deeply fully understand E= mc squared. I do not know what it feels like to lose a child so my understanding is limited and not as deep. I would feel arrogant telling them that I truly deeply understand what they are feeling because I cannot, I can only imagine. Experience has taught me empathy comes in levels and it is not a matter of do you have it or not. Divorce has taught me that, yeah I felt for those suffering but I did not truly understand why it ranks just under death of a loved one an a stress scale until it happened to me. Some understanding gets deeper and thus the empathy becomes more genuine.

  47. That’s right. Empathy simply means that you can imagine their pain and are saddened that they are suffering. That’s all that that Scripture is saying, God doesn’t want or expect us to have false humility, sadness, or joy. You put it a great way when you referred to “levels” of empathy. Christ wants us to love one another like we love ourselves, Jesus said that not me. The way that we grow in the “understanding” we are talking about is by drawing closer to Christ Jesus. I really like the last sentence in your comment, it sums it up nicely!

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