White men can’t sympathize
“See. if I’m thirsty. I don’t want a glass of water, I want you to sympathize. I want you to say, ‘Gloria, I too know what it feels like to be thirsty. I too have had a dry mouth.’ I want you to connect with me through sharing and understanding the concept of dry mouthedness.”
– Rosie Perez, as “Gloria Clemente”
Perhaps I shouldn’t be taking cues in DOC behavior from a movie. Perhaps I shouldn’t even be quoting a movie that was released — oh my God, I just looked it up, and boy do I feel old! — twenty-two years ago. But that scene plays through my head a lot as I read of the tough times that some of my fellow PWDs are going through. I see someone struggling, and I turn to a movie about basketball and hustling for advice.
(White Men Can’t Jump is a really funny movie. You should go out and rent it. Or maybe they have it on that newfangled Netflix thing. Unfortunately, I can’t find a video clip of the scene, but there’s an audio clip here; it’s the second one from the top.)
If I read about someone going through tough times with high blood sugars, or their CGM, or insurance companies, my first inclination is always to try and help. It’s a natural reaction. Just like when Gloria told her boyfriend that she was thirsty, Billy got her a glass of water. Problem solved, apparently.
Except that it wasn’t. Gloria retorted with a guilt-filled lecture, chastising Billy (and men in general) for making “the mistake of thinking they can solve a woman’s problem” and being “controlling”. Instead, Billy was supposed to truly understand and feel compassion for what his companion was going through. Gloria didn’t want her thirst quenched, she wanted sympathy.
When someone expresses discomfort, the left-brained thinker says that the way to make them feel better is to remove the source of distress. The right-brained person, however, wants to find comforting words to make the situation more bearable. Billy is left-brained, Glora is right-brained.
My actions tend to lean to the left, though my thoughts are often on the right.. Typing “I’m sorry”, a sad-faced emoticon, or the word “hugs” enveloped in a series of parentheses just seems a bit hollow and empty to me. However, there are some stories I read that truly strike a chord with me, and I really want to be supportive. Helpful. I want to make it better.
And yes, there are times when there’s nothing that can be done — nothing that can be done to fix it. All I can do is try to express empathy via written words, but without coming across as gratuitous or shallow. It’s not so easy.
Sometimes, I take my chances and say something that doesn’t quite reflect what I’m thinking. Sometimes, I send a private message and express an outpouring of support in my usual verbose and rambling manner.
Sometimes, the right words don’t come to me, so I just say nothing. That leaves me somewhat disappointed in myself.
And yes, there are many times that I try to make it better. My advice is thought-out, but I don’t know if it’s warranted or even welcome. Maybe the person I’m trying to help is too frustrated or exhausted to do or even think about at the moment, and they just wants some company down in the deep emotional abyss – one which they will ultimately (hopefully!) emerge after an appropriate amount of insulin and/or food and/or time has passed.
To help or to console? It’s a tough call, and this movie scene sometimes helps me to answer that question, even if it goes against my better judgment.
This community is good at supporting one another. It’s pretty much an unwritten requirement for admission, and I do my best to fit in. But knowing how to do that is tough. So if I don’t say (or not say) the right thing, now you know why.
Who do you turn to when you need support in offering support?