Lend Me Your Ears

I learned something new about myself today. Which is pretty cool.

I posted something on Twitter and Google+ this morning. (Note to self: write a blog post about Google+.) I was just venting about being especially sleepy this morning, but on Google+, I suddenly found a lot of comments with suggestions of how I could pep myself up. My friend Brendan then asked a pretty simple question that I had honestly never really considered before: “When you share your problems on the internet, are you seeking sympathy or solutions?”

I thought about it and realized that when I’m looking for advice and solutions to problems, I generally state that pretty clearly. “I need some help here!” “I’ve got a question…” Things like that. When I don’t say something specifically about wanting advice, I’m really just looking for sympathy. And, to be honest, attention. (But doesn’t everyone who posts on the internet want some attention?)

The line “If I want your advice, I’ll ask for it”? Yeah, that’s pretty much how it is with me. Most of the time, I’m not looking for–or even really wanting–advice, solutions, answers. I want a pat on the shoulder and a hug (virtual or physical), a kind word, even a “You think you’ve got it bad? Wait ’til you hear what I’m going through!” But to be blunt, if I don’t specifically ask for advice, I’m not really going to be open to it. In all likelihood, I’m going to ignore it or (if I’m not feeling particularly patient) lash out at it.

So if you see me post something that amounts to “oh woe is me!” and I’m not directly asking for advice, answers, solutions, help…it’s probably for the best if you just offer me your sympathy. Or ignore me. (Not every cry for attention needs to be answered, AMIRITE?) And I’ll do my best to be clear about what my intentions and expectations are. Open, honest communication is always the best way.

Now piss off and go do something for you.

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8 thoughts on “Lend Me Your Ears

  1. While I totally see your point- I would venture to offer the thought that it is an automatic reaction to try to help/solve something that is unsatisfactory. Especially when we like you. Which we do.

    I do see your point. I hated suggestions for my business when what I needed was simply to vent about it. But, there is a price for venting, and it is impractical to try to preface every post with “just venting, no suggestions please”. I eventually vented to private posts, and a paper journal.

    Oh wait, here I am commenting. Did I mention automatic reaction?

    Going now!

  2. That’s a fair point, Yosa. I usually have the automatic reaction of wanting to help people I like, too. But I’ve also gotten to a point where I try not to offer advice unless the person asks for it. Or if the conversation has moved to a point where offering advice is a blisteringly obvious, sensible thing to do.

    I’m certainly not going to hold it against anyone if they want to help me, regardless of whether or not I’ve specifically asked for help. That’s a kindness I don’t want to take for granted. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to think before they offer advice and ask themselves, “Is my advice needed right now? Is is wanted?” Especially on the interwebs, where an immediate response is rarely crucial.

  3. Random thoughts, not an organized response — Speaking generally and not about you specifically, there’s a problem for family members and friends of someone seeking only sympathy and not advice or help. The problem is trying to figure out if giving the hug, or the pat on the back is really sympathetic or an unhelpful indulgence. Is it “enabling” (a term I’m not fond of but for which I have no ready alternative) or is it truly comforting? Viz.: a parent giving an adult offspring an “Aw…” and a hug when the complaint is “I’ve run out of cocaine.” Even among friends (not family, who are always ready with advice and instructions on how we should live our lives), should one always give a hug when what’s really needed is a kick in the ass? In the older generation of my immediate maternal family (which, by dint of who raised me, I belonged to by default), sympathy-giving was a requirement; sympathy-seeking was considered unseemly. One of the most common phrases at my immediate family’s funerals was “Fer crissake! Pull yourself together!” So….random thoughts…..

  4. That’s a good point. A good example is a friend who emailed me recently to ask if I was on medication for my anxiety and depression, and if so, to maybe talk to my doctor about changing the dosage. I didn’t ask for the advice, but I appreciated the concern and responded seriously, because if you see someone posting a lot about anxiety and depression, there comes a point when just saying, “Awww, that sucks!” starts to feel like either enabling (at worst) or ignoring an obvious problem (at the very least).

    Sometimes, even when I think I don’t need or want advice, someone’s got to step up and give it to me anyway.

  5. I’m always ready and happy to give advice to anybody at anytime about anything.

  6. I remember years ago when getting my Education degree I took a class on counseling students. One of the things we learned was about listening and responding. The professor broke it down into six categories of possible responses. I don’t remember all six, but I do remember which ones were the most and least helpful to give. If you really want someone to feel like you’re listening to them and understanding them, the best initial response you can give is “feeling-focused.” Empathy or sympathy, in other words. And the worst initial response you can give, the one that will make them feel like you’re not really responsive to their needs, is problem-solving. That’s something that’s always stuck with me and I’ve had so many experiences to reinforce it I know it wasn’t just academic babble.

  7. Oh, that’s really interesting! And makes a lot of sense, if only from my (admittedly limited) perspective.

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