Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I've Never Actually Been to Fresno... but it makes a convenient fall guy.

Team Miner:  

A while ago I posted an article on the concept of "comfort in, dump out." I love the simplicity of that rule, but I have come to recognize a limitation. Or maybe just a need for further refinement.  

Before I launch in, I should say that Jeff co-wrote this post. I was struggling to put this concept into words in a more generous than critical way, while still being honest and true to how I feel, to explain and share where I - and no doubt others - are coming from. 

So, the issue is with the definition of "comfort."  When going through an experience that fundamentally has no upsides (e.g. when your spouse has cancer) it is not comforting to hear about the "bright side" of your situation or "how lucky you are, relatively speaking." This may seem odd or counter-intuitive, especially given that Jeff is often quick to bring up the silver linings in our situation when asked about how things are going, rather than dwelling on the monolithic negative of having cancer.

Don't get me wrong. I am also quick (though less quick than Jeff) to count our blessings. We are still here in SF, surrounded by people we love who have been able to support us in so many ways. We have phenomenally supportive families.  We have great health care and other benefits. We live close to UCSF, not in say, Fresno. And, I can be thankful for not living in Fresno for other reasons, on a daily basis.

Still, blessings are something best counted for oneself, rather than to have counted for you by others. And really, I would rather not have to walk this path, blessings or not. It's not at all fun. And, despite what I am sure are the best of intentions, hearing anyone say anything along the lines of "you're so lucky to have a supportive network..."  just grates on my nerves.

So, I write to encourage everyone to tread gently and with emotional "attunement" when interacting with anyone who is coping with mega-stress, grief, miscarriages, losses of jobs, the list goes on. For comforters, this means being sensitive to the possibility that what you perceive as "comforting," may not be so for your "comfortee." Being comforted and cheered up are not always the same thing - try to take your cue from the person going through whatever it may be. It may be more comforting just for you to be present than to try and help them feel optimistic, cheerful, or thankful - even if that's obviously what we want for those we care for. For comfortees (in this case, us) it means learning to practice empathy as well - to receive comfort in the spirit in which it is given and with compassion for the giver. It also means sharing our experiences in the hopes that we and others can learn from articulating them.

Katina (with some help from Jeff)


Katherine said...

I struggle with this one all.the.time. When I'm sitting with students who are in crisis and I think I see the way out it is so hard not to tell them how I think they should "fix it". We never want to see another person in pain. And it's just not intuitive that the best way to support others is actually to walk into that pain and sit down right there with them. Over and over and over my Div school faculty reminded me that it wasn't up to me to fix the problems of others, it was up to me to bring God into the pain and to listen and be present. KK has always been much better at that than I am. I guess that's why she's the Chaplain and I'm the administrator(mostly).

Thank you for this post. It is a good reminder of the right thing to do, both when I talk to you and Jeff, and when I work with students who are in crisis. Have I told you recently how glad I am that you are in our family??? If not, I'm super glad and I can't wait to come visit you in KY.

Much love you from the Kates.

Marion Franck said...

Hi Katina,
You may not know that I'm a faithful reader of your blog. Even though you haven't set out to teach things, I've been learning a lot from you. Today's piece was especially helpful.Thank you. And may the next round of chemo go as well as possible.--Marion

Marion Franck said...

This line in particular: "Still, blessings are something best counted for oneself, rather than to have counted for you by others."

dirteens said...

Marion and Kate - thank you. And, Marion, that sentence was all Jeff. I really liked it also.


How did the Miner family happen to attract two highly intelligent, articulate women into the family, both with Greek heritage, law degrees, and who radiate wonderful personal charm and insight? That says something about the wisdom, and good fortune of Jeff Miner...yes I was at your wedding...and Curt Miner...yes I was at Curt and Tania's wedding.
We are very blessed that we are a strong, caring and sharing family. Jean and Jud Miner wish we could be there with you. Instead we waft our prayers your way, and say thanks that the younger members of the clan can be our emissaries.

PastorJ said...

So...I count your blog as one of the blessings I've received. The simple phrases you offer..."comfort in, dump out," and "blessings are best counted..." are wonderful simple reminders. As one who is a "helper" on the Enneagram, I'm always searching for the best way to be of help. It's good to have a mantra, some reminder of how best to offer help, lovingkindness, to others. Surrounding you all with prayers. JMS

dirteens said...

Thanks DOD and Jinny. We miss you guys too! Jinny your comment made me think that I need to take the Enneagram again. I can't remember my results, but I suspect I may also be a helper? In any event, I know for certain that I have often fallen far short of my own advice to just "be with someone" through their experience of their pain... so this is an eye-opening learning experience.