Reality Check: Lots on your Plate?

Busy, busy, busy. Ask most anyone how they are doing and you’ll often hear, “I’m so busy!”

What are some potential consequences of that busy-ness?

Harriet cares for a very sick child, looks after an elderly aunt, and has a myriad of other responsibilities. She’s busy. She’s also worried, sad, and lonely.

Yvonne, Harriet’s friend, is aware of Harriet’s busy-ness and doesn’t want to add to her burden. So she doesn’t call Harriet and trouble her with the events of her life. Yvonne does inquire after Harriet from their mutual acquaintances, and everyone is very sympathetic. “Yes, it’s an awful situation. And she’s so busy.”

Yvonne never contacts Harriet directly because she doesn’t want to be inconsiderate by taking Harriet’s time.

Further, Yvonne certainly would not want to ask Harriet about her child. The situation might be bad, and then they’d both be upset. They might end up crying. That would be awful.

On the one hand, this avoidance behaviour could be perceived as thoughtfulness. Yvonne is trying to do the right thing; she doesn’t want to ask Harriet about her situation and possibly make things worse. She doesn’t want to upset her. It’s a fine intention—to be kind.

Does the reality live up to the intention?

Harriet, frantic with her many tasks, has no idea that Yvonne is even thinking of her. With little or no contact, Harriet feels abandoned. She may perceive that Yvonne doesn’t want to hear her unhappiness, so she doesn’t want to contact her friend until she has something happy to report. That good news, unfortunately, may never come.

So there we have it. Yvonne doesn’t call because she is afraid of upsetting Harriet. As the distance between Harriet and Yvonne increases, the more abandoned and alone Harriet feels.

If only the two of them knew. Like, if they could talk…

It’s easy to make assumptions about what is best for other people, but it can be really hard to be sure what’s best to do. How can we find out?

One way to learn is to ask! For example, “Harriet, I know that you are busy, but I’d like to stay in touch with you. Would you like me to call you or would you rather that I not call for a while?” Listen to Harriet’s answer, and you now know the right thing to do.

Also remember that being upset and crying has its place. While I try to bring out a positive way of looking at situations in these columns, we know that not every situation is positive. Sometimes, the “positive way” is simply whatever connects two people in a shared experience, even when that experience is a sad one.

We have sad experiences. They can be much less disappointing, sad, devastating, when you know that someone cares about you.

Which do you think is more effective? To go through the temporary discomfort of calling your friend and asking if they want to talk? Or, when it’s all over, to say, “I didn’t want to bother you. I knew you had a lot on your plate.”?

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