This weekend, I was on a road trip with people who were mostly strangers. The conversation was flowing and I was chatting to a new friend about how beautiful Connecticut is in the fall. It was a great convo and I was having a blast learning about my new friend. You see, I love my home state and nothing makes me happier than talking to people about our peak season. I really think that a New England fall is one of the most breathtaking natural sights a person can see in this lifetime. It was a great, happy, upbeat conversation. Then, out of nowhere, someone interrupted me to announce to everyone in the car my personal connection to Newtown and how much it pained her.
And I felt like someone punched me in the stomach.
There are few things in this world that really upset me but I was livid. There are two reasons this is completely unacceptable behavior.
Reason #1 – The Ring Theory
A friend of mine once posted this article to help people understand how to talk to her about her daughter’s cancer. Here’s what the Ring Theory looks like:
When something happens, draw some rings. At the center, put who this directly affects… the person who is at the center of it all. Then start to peel out – add spouses and children, followed by siblings, parents, other family members… best friends, neighbors, colleagues, family friends… so on and so forth. Keep going until you find yourself on this illustration. This will teach you how to talk to the other people affected by the tragedy.
If someone is on a smaller ring than yours, you’re there to help them… not complain or make things worse. Silk & Goldman say it best in this quote:
Ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring. Comfort IN, dump OUT.
I would never go up to one of my friends who went to that school, or lives in the town, and tell them how much this tragedy hurt me. As upset as I was by it, there are literally hundreds of people in smaller circles than mine. To be honest, I don’t talk to anyone but my mom, brother and best friend about this because everyone has a unique relationship with the event and I know that my feelings and thoughts are different than others closer to the tragedy. AKA, it’s not about you. Don’t tell anyone in a smaller ring how their tragedy hurts you. It’s selfish and it’s inconsiderate.
Reason #2 – My Grief Isn’t Yours to Share
At this point in my life, I’m relatively okay with talking about most of the people I lost and the pain I’ve been through. However, I’m not comfortable talking about that day and am very private about it aside from the occasional article that I push through. That’s okay because it’s my decision to make.
No one has any right to announce another person’s hardship without their permission. Grief is a very private process. I can’t think of a worse thing to do than to tell strangers about a private part of someone’s life without any permission. Not only is it inconsiderate but it’s going to really hurt the person you’re talking about. There’s a reason why they don’t tell everyone.
Why was I so upset about this broadcast? I really don’t like to publicly talk about this event… even writing this post is uncomfortable. Mine & my friends’ relationship with the person we knew from this incident was complicated and I’m still trying to overcome the emotions and regret that come with that. Campers of mine, while safe and sound today, were deprived of their innocence. I just really, really don’t like to think about it.
Also, it’s because that specific town means a lot to me. It’s the town that I first started acting in and my life would not be the same without it. I never want it to be defined by a single action – especially one that was this horrific. The fact that the first thing she thought of saying when she heard Connecticut was this event makes me unbelievably angry and sad for my state. It’s so much more than that.
I know I went on a bit of a rant, but I just want to put it out there. Grief is private and it’s not your place to announce someone else’s life story… especially if you’re not even close to that person. When in doubt, just listen. Don’t bring it up, don’t offer advice, don’t try to relate… just listen.