Friday, 22 November 2013

It could be worse

I have to laugh at all those reassuring clichés that people trot out when someone's in a tight spot or feeling a bit pissed off. They make you feel better for about ten seconds until you start thinking about them and realise they're total bollocks.

"You should be grateful for small mercies." Why? I want big mercies. The bigger the better.

"It could be worse." So if my house has fallen down, my wife's died and the car's been stolen, that's okay because it could be worse.

"The meek will inherit the earth." No they won't, they'll be shat on by every ruthless bastard who sees them coming.

"Your day will come." Probably not. The odds are it's already come and gone without you noticing.

"Always look on the bright side." Suppose there isn't one? Suppose it's a total calamity and all you can do is climb from the wreckage? (Another version of "It could be worse")

"You'll feel better in the morning." More likely you'll feel worse as you start blaming yourself for the disaster that was caused entirely by your own stupidity.

"It's all good experience." No it's not, it's a crap-fest that teaches you nothing except not to jump into things feet first.

"It'll all work out in the end." Or alternatively it'll turn into a bigger and bigger mess until you just want to top yourself.

"Every cloud has a silver lining." Not necessarily. It might be a budget version with a cheap and nasty polyester lining.

"We've all been there." Have you? Do you have the slightest inkling how shattering and demoralising this was? (Another version of "I feel your pain.")

Of course nobody truly believes all this nonsense. The real point is that it expresses the other person's sympathy and concern and kindness, and that's what counts when you're feeling knocked for six.

So the next time I'm down in the dumps, by all means tell me it could be worse. I'll know what you're really saying. I'll know all those silly words are really just a big hug and a loving kiss.


  1. I have to say, it does feel like an admonition when someone says those sorts of phrases. I'd rather hear, "I'm sorry" or "I sympathize"

  2. Tell me Nick, would you like people to say, as they so often do at an Irish funeral, "Sorry for your troubles, Mister!"?

    Now pull up your socks, young man, it will be a long forgotten dream by Christmas!

  3. Bijoux: True, a simple expression of sympathy is probably appreciated more than a trite reassurance.

    Grannymar: That's another trite expression,isn't it? It certainly wouldn't do much for me.

    Ha, "pull your socks up" was a phrase often directed at me as a child!

  4. Whatever cliche it takes to get through...

    You;ve reminded me though of the recent music video shoot with which I was involved. The main guy is an 11-yr-old boy with Aspergers. Doesn't smile on cue. Doesn't want to sing on cue. Lovely friendly smiley boy - but not on cue.

    To encourage him, one of the crew was exhorting him to think of the lyrics (the boy himself had written) "Christmas, Christmas, the best time of the year." Which, it was hoped, would prompt him to smile for the cameras.

    But as the boy himself put it - best time means it's better than all the other times. It doesn't mean it's good.

    Anyway - I tried blowing raspberries instead.

  5. Paul: True, for people like that with serious problems, the soothing clichés make even less sense. At least when someone's lost a loved one, other people realise the uselessness of all those clichés and confine themselves to sympathetic expressions and gestures.

  6. I didn't know that you can ever be down in the dumps!

  7. Ramana: A bit of literary licence there. I'm never down in the dumps for longer than about half an hour, thankfully. But if I were....

  8. My parents didn't go in for soothing clichés when I was little. They were more of the get-a-grip school - "Pull yourself together", "Stop making such a fuss", "Don't be such a baby."

  9. How about, "If that's the worse thing that ever happens to you, you'll be darned lucky." My mother said that once and for some reason it cracks me up now. She was right. It wasn't the worse thing that ever happened to me.

  10. Jean: Yes, my parents said that a lot. A much more realistic comment, I think. And much better at putting a crisis into perspective.

  11. When my brother drowned at 23, my uncle said to me at the funeral, "It's for the best." What. The. Fuck. I was speechless at the time and just walked away. When I miscarried, someone who was having fertility issues said, "At least you can GET pregnant." Sure, because a dead baby is better than no baby? And when I had cervical cancer and had to have a hysterectomy, several people said, "You'll feel so much better afterwards." Well, no, I already felt fine, how was cutting into me and ripping out an organ going to make me feel better?

    So many people seem to have missed the fact that just saying, "I'm so sorry" is the safest bet.

  12. Agent: A splendid selection of idiotic comments! Especially the one about your brother. What could he possibly have meant?

    Indeed, just the sympathetic phrase "I'm so sorry" is all that's needed. The fatuous observations are definitely NOT needed.

  13. And then there's that other soothing cliché - "We'll find the perpetrators of this hideous crime and we'll bring them to justice." Maybe. In about 50% of cases. If you're lucky.

  14. Excellent list, Nick. Am totally shocked at Secret Agent Woman's experience.

    There are times when it's best to shut up, say nothing at all. Maybe a squeeze of a hand, an arm round your shoulder is all that's needed. Even a tissue silently volunteered can be a comfort.

    Fact is - and I sympathize - people (not least the English) are helpless in the face of someone else's misery. And a lot of those empty phrases - yes, a means of trying to make the other person feel better - but mainly to make YOURSELF not feel uncomfortable.

    Some of the examples you give with regards to your parents are just awful, awful, awful. Why? Because what we need to do - all of us, for each other, not least for our children - to bloody ACKNOWLEDGE when someone is hurting. Not poo poo it.

    Before I work myself into a lather on this subject, a subject close to my heart, I myself will shut up and say to all of you " " No, that's not printable - but heartfelt.


  15. Ursula: Yes, and I'm sure most of us have had similar stupid remarks thrown at us. True, someone else's misery is hard to respond to, how on earth do we help them? But you're right, a sympathetic squeeze or hug is usually better than some well-meaning but mindless comment.

    Thankfully the "get-a-grip" approach is fading away, but it was very normal when I was growing up. As you say, the most important thing with hurt and misery is to recognise the full extent of it and not trivialise it.

  16. I don't like hearing this stuff. On the other hand, I often find myself saying such things to myself. But it sounds different from me to me :D

  17. Jenny: They do sound very different when they're applied to ourselves! Also, even though I know saying "I'm so sorry" is the best thing to say, I still feel that's somehow not quite enough.