Long back, when I used to run our book shop in Chennai, I remember having posters from Archies with the above content. And it has made me think several times.
One specific incident with one of my friends (who is no more) that I recall distinctly is the one when I asked him as to what were the reasons for his business loss and bankruptcy then. I did not realise at the time of asking, that this question must have been posed to him several times by many people before I did. I ended up irritating him by having repeated this question. He, with a sad and disturbed face, asked me if I am going to solve his problem by providing solutions and funds. If the answer was yes then he would share the details. I almost froze. Became quiet. I genuinely wanted to understand his problem and help him find a solution. But I did not understand how troubling it could be for him if I asked him the same question asked by scores of others in the past. Unfortunately none of the those who asked the questions (including me) proposed any solutions to his problem even though we may have intended to.
Just a couple of days back one of my friends recalled a very recent event. For a number of very valid reasons he had gained weight – junk food, drinks, smoking, stress, work pressure, lack of exercise etc. Over the past year and a half, he had made several attempts to reduce his weight through exercise, yoga, meditation, control over food and what have you, but with little or no significant impact. I am sure that this is the case with a number of people who gain weight and are unable to reduce it later. May be there are other underlying causes than the obvious ones and these causes are different for different people and my friend also was unable to get the root of the issue.
And here is the event that reduced my friend to tears. One of his friends who came home asked him as to why he was unable to lose weight while his spouse could maintain herself. While a question of this type should normally not upset anyone, especially coming from a friend, this situation was different. Here was a person who had put on lots of weight and was unable to shed the excess weight despite several sincere attempts. It is a sensitive, personal and a deeply emotional subject. Unknowingly, this friend of my friend, instead of becoming a part of the solution, became a part of the problem.
Here is my suggestion. When you realise that you are broaching a sensitive “problem” offer solutions, suggestions and ideas even as you ask questions. Share examples of some others who were in similar situations and have overcome their problems and what they employed as solutions. Also preface your questions with a disclaimer like “you may have been asked this question several times before, but here’s my understanding of your situation and I had a suggestion to make or I found a solution that worked for xyz or I have a crazy idea or I dealt with a similar situation like this etc”. Please do not add to the problem or hurt the person’s sentiments.