This time of year I am mostly focused on issues surrounding holiday etiquette, but a recent event prompted me to deviate from this timely theme. This unfortunate occurrence at a social event, and demonstrated a profound lack of empathy for another's real problems by someone who, by and large, is a Grace.
The UsualGrace asked about a friend's teen, who had been struggling with various problems. Whether it was good form to make such an inquiry in public is absolutely questionable--a True Grace would only do so in a quiet, private setting--but at that point, the Chanel was out of the atomizer. The beleaguered mom gave a brief, honest, and rather depressing account of their recent troubles. UsualGrace said, "Where is she now?" Mom said, "She's home watching Glee." UG said, "Well, that's what all the kids are into. It sounds like she's perfectly fine. I don't understand what you are so worried about. If she can appreciate something that is so normal, I'm sure she'll sort herself out."
My assessment of whether the appreciation of Glee is an indication that a person is "fine" aside, the abject dismissal of this family's challenges is downright flagrant.
But notwithstanding my objection to this, ahem, cultural phenom...if you are going to ask about a person's troubles, you'd better be prepared to hear them and respond with something akin to sympathy or understanding. And no, I am not referring to people who respond to the general "How are you" with a detailed description of their intestinal machinations.
To simply disregard a real crisis as "perfectly fine" is insulting, hurtful, and probably made the mom feel even more isolated and upset than she already was. Doubtless UG was trying to make the mom less worried by attempting to minimize her problems, but it backfired. You know what they say about the road to hell. The mom excused herself tactfully, and left the event soon after this unfortunate conversation.
So let's recap, Graces.
If a friend is going through a rough time....
DO offer a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on at an appropriate time. "Appropriate" can be defined as a small, quiet setting where you will have some time to talk. It cannot be defined as warmup of zumba class, at a workplace meeting, or at a raucous happy hour.
DO express your understanding in a supportive, non-judgmental way: "That must be so difficult." "I am so sorry you are going through this."
DO offer help: "I don't know if there is anything I can do, but if there is, I'll do it." "Can I drive you to an appointment/pick up your kids/bring you some groceries/come by with a pint of ice cream and a large spoon?"
DON'T say dismissively that everything will be fine.
DON'T ask for particulars in the middle of a large gathering or social occasion. If the person has made the effort to get out, s/he is probably eager to escape the trouble for a spell.
DON'T make ill-informed diagnostic statements. "He likes to watch football? Well, then I'm sure he's over his clinical depression." "I read an article about that in People; Kim Kardashian's cousin was cured with hypnosis and wheat grass juice."