Recently, I’ve been watching Quincy’s Tavern on Instagram. I find his bartender shorts amusing, soothing, and appropriately geeky. However, I did come across one of them that made me think. It’s called Blanket or Sword? It is a quicker, more fun way of asking: do you want comfort or a solution?
This is something I’ve come to lean on a lot recently. The world is tough right now. Friends are ill or their personhood is under attack. There is a lot to be sad or worried or angry about. The trick is not to get caught up in a doom spiral—either as the person speaking or the person listening.
When someone complains about (or explains) a problem, you have choices on how to respond. As I think most of us have realized that we aren’t telepathic, text is an imperfect medium, and sometimes you don’t actually know what the speaker is asking for, it is better to be direct and ask. Sometimes the person is venting and needs a listener. Sometimes the person is aggressively asking for help while venting. Sometimes…and this is the tricky point…the person is complaining just to hear themselves talk, and they have an answer on why every single suggestion you make just won’t work.
It is this third person who saps the life and empathy out of every sympathetic / well-meaning person. There is such a thing as empathy fatigue. It’s a sad place to be in. It’s the kind of place that allows you to listen to a loved one’s tale of woe and not respond or to respond badly. (Which, in my case, comes with a side helping of guilt later when I think about the interaction.)
I really think that more people need to be willing and able to ask “Blanket or the Sword?” or “Are you venting or asking for help?” I also think we, who need the blanket or the sword, must strive to be aware of our need at the time because there is nothing more frustrating than someone who either won’t listen or will turn away every single suggestion with an “it will never work” attitude.
We all need a little help sometimes. Leeloo once trapped herself in my suitcase.