Bad news advice trap

May 2, 2018

This last week we had to share some bad news with friends and family. Mostly we got messages of sympathy and this was greatly appreciated. Some, though with all the best intentions, gave advice. Now I've made this mistake myself because I am a terrible know-it-all so I know the need to be helpful and it is a sentiment filled with hope and no malice. But unfortunately, some advice can be taken the wrong way.

 

I've had this with my weight. People assume that my weight is due to over eating. Instead it has mostly to do with genetics. So I will get advice on diets and sports equipment etc. But when you assume that the issue is due to something the person has done you can unintentionally blame them for the situation they are in. This was the case with the bad news we had to share.

 

You see my dad has cancer. Cancer scares people. It is the bogey man because it is caused by carcinogens, which we literally breath each day, and genetics. Not even the more permanent genes but also epigenetics. You can literally be more susceptible to cancer because your grandparents had a terrible childhood. Thanks to two major world wars I think everyone has been dealt a pretty bad dose of bad genes. So the two major causes of cancer is being born and breathing. Okay, there are other things that play a factor but in my dad's case these are the most likely culprits for his cancer.

 

I think because we fear this monster that comes out of nowhere that we like to have a magic bullet to solve it. Yes, treatment for cancer has improved in leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, for my dad the type of cancer he has isn't one of those they have found a better treatment for. Either you catch it early and cut it out and even then they only give you ten years before it pops up again. Dad got to about year 5 before it popped up again. We are in the middle of that journey and none of us are looking forward to the destination. 

 

That brings me to the advice. With all the love in their heart advice was given. Try this and it will... Unfortunately, that implies that if he hadn't been doing A or B that it caused the cancer in the first place. That somehow my dad gave himself cancer because of something he did. Cancer doesn't work like that. But to believe this allows people to say when the final destination does arrive that as long as he did A he would have survived. Of if he did A then it was B he should have done. They can shift the outcome to some action that wasn't taken. This is because if cancer ever visited them that they would be able to have some way to fight it. Some way to avoid that destination.

 

Death is something we will all face and yes, healthy living might give us some more time but that is no guarantee. I've known marathon runners keel over with a heart attack. Or it could be a drunk driver or faulty wire in the house. The point is when someone gives you bad news advice might be seen as blame instead of the hope and care you want to portray. The next time someone gives you bad news bite your tongue. You might want to help but that is assuming they haven't tried every avenue available. That somehow they haven't done enough. That it is their fault for being in this situation. Instead, just say you love them. That actually gets across what you really meant by giving the advice in the first place.

 

 

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