A bit of unsolicited advice on helping friends, colleagues, students, and family members who are struggling in this pandemic world:
Avoid, “Yes, but…”
Embrace, “Yes, so…”
“Yes, but…” is an attempt to remind someone of how fortunate they are despite the losses they have suffered. It’s a reminder to be grateful for all that you still have. My students, for example, are suffering the loss of enormous milestone moments that punctuate the final year of elementary school. Field trips, Shakespearean plays, celebrations, school fairs, and graduation ceremonies that they have heard about for years are now lost forever. As a result, I spend an enormous amount of my time talk about these losses with my kids.
When doing so, I never say things like, “Yes, but just remember how lucky we are to still be healthy,” or “Yes, but you’ll still have your middle and high school graduations to look forward to,” or “Yes, but summer vacation is right around the corner.”
Instead, I say, “Yes, so what are we going to do now?”
“Yes, but…” is an attempt to negate feelings that are reasonable, rationale, and understandable. Kids should be upset about these last three months of their school year. They should be disappointed, outraged, and sad. Feelings of depression and rage seem perfectly reasonable to me. This is a terrible time for many people.
So I never “Yes, but…” them.
Instead, I say, “Yes, so…”
“Yes, so…” makes no attempt to minimize or negate their feelings. It honors those feeling and accepts them as undeniable and understandable. Then it gently invites a conversation about what comes next.
“Yes, so…” says, “I agree with you. This is a horrendous situation. Historic and unfathomable and tragic. You have every right to feel angry and sad. So what should we do about it? What can I do to help? What is our next step?”
For some, this might mean eating ice cream, watching Netflix, and intermittently crying for three days.
Perfectly rational response.
For others, it might mean finding something new to fill their time and headspace. For still others, it might mean seeking professional help to address feelings that can’t be managed on their own.
“Yes, so…” validates the person’s perception of the situation, then it encourages them to devise a next step into the future. In some case, this could be a bold leap into a new, potentially delightful existence. For others, it might be an infinitesimal shuffle forward.
Remaining grateful for all that we still have is always a good thing. Many people find enormous benefits in maintaining gratitude journals and exercises designed to remind them of how fortunate they really are. But gratitude should not be forced upon a person in an attempt to eliminate suffering. It should be weaponized as a panacea to heartache.
We must allow people to feel what they feel. Honor and respect their entirely rationale response to this completely irrational world. Our job should be to support these struggling friends, family members, colleagues, and students in this time of crisis by acknowledging and respecting their feelings then asking them what should be done next.
“Yes, this is the worst situation imaginable. You should be angry and sad. You might feel this way for a long time. So what should we do next?”
This approach, I have found, has yielded the best results.