2016-09-27 - What People Say ~ It Could be Worse
And What the Bible Says About It
I suppose as a combination of both simply the instinct God gave me (for which I am thankful), and my training, I can't imagine people actually saying this to someone other than themselves. But they do. Neither Richard nor I would ever have considered saying this to anyone, but we have heard said to others and ourselves, including during his recovery from Guillain-Barre Syndrome. So I can only speculate about the motivation. My educated guess would be that it is a well-intentioned attempt to "sound positive," but the effect is often the opposite.
When someone shares about a situation, only to be told "things could be worse," that is dismissive of what the person is currently experiencing. Rather than making the person "feel better," it instead makes light of the present situation, making the patient (or natural disaster or fire or crime victim or whatever the case) or family feel worse.
As God has taught some of us instinctively, and as some of us also learned in counseling training, the most important, first step toward helping someone in crisis or any difficult situation, is to validate the person's feelings. If someone's feelings aren't validated, they won't feel "heard," they will feel judged, and they certainly won't feel any love you have for them. It is a fact that one of the loneliest feelings in the world is to share from the heart, only to have one's feelings be invalidated, to be told one shouldn't feel that way, or shouldn't talk about it. In our case, the person saying this wasn't a close friend, and we were able to just laugh about it. It's become a family joke, that any time something "negative" happens, we look at each other and say "it could be worse!"
But that particular saying also is judgmental, because it implies that the person who is sharing has an ungrateful spirit, and needs to be reminded that there are good things in his/her life. Being a thankful person does not preclude also having difficulties and wishing God would change some things. This is a normal human emotion, and those who feel it are in good Biblical company. See: the Psalmists, the Apostle Paul and even Christ Himself.
In addition, just as with the other sayings, it flies in the face of logic to say this. Things can always be worse, if you aren't lying "six feet under." That doesn't mean you aren't going through something difficult.
As with other inconsiderate sayings, the bottom line is that it is unkind, and violates "the Golden Rule." When you are about to say something to a person who is going through a challenging situation, a good way to decide whether to say a certain statement is to think of your most difficult situation, and whether this would have helped you. Though it's often difficult to do, sometimes the very best thing is to just remain silent, and just have a "ministry of presence" with the person. You can't fix the situation, and you cannot make them feel better. Please understand that. I don't think that some people truly understand do get it. Telling someone things could be better, to smile more, they need more faith, or that God will eventually bring something good out of this, that does not make people feel better. And in fact, it usually makes them temporarily feel worse. I'm quite sure that people who utter these cliches do not want to make things worse. But they often do.
So ironically, telling someone "things could be worse" usually is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that the saying makes the recipient feel worse! That's a saying that we should only say to ourselves.
Series to be continued.
Janice P. Moser
All scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted.