“It works in all kinds of crises — medical, legal, even existential. It’s the ‘Ring Theory’ of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out.
“When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan’s colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn’t feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague’s response? ‘This isn’t just about you.’
“‘It’s not?” Susan wondered. ‘My breast cancer is not about me? It’s about you?’
“The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie’s husband, Pat. ‘I wasn’t prepared for this,’ she told him. ‘I don’t know if I can handle it.'”
In all reality the woman who spoke to Katie’s husband loves her friend dearly, but seeing Katie in her current state “moved her so deeply.” It wasn’t the right thing to say or do and the same applies to Susan’s colleague’s remark.
In an effort to teach people how to avoid saying or acting in the wrong way during crisis, Susan developed a simple technique. This “works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.”
“Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.”
To learn more about the Ring Theory, click here to read the full article.