Wednesday, 13 July 2016

You are not alone

I send a long and fond email to a very old friend. He’s facing up to some things just at the moment, so I think a lot about the tone. Tone is important. I suspect that people don’t want sympathy so much. The thing the men and women at HorseBack dread most is the pity face and I learned to put that away long ago, although I do still sometimes raise my eyebrows when they tell me a good getting blown up story. Sympathy sounds lovely, on paper, but in life it can be almost patronising. I like empathy better. But empathy has been hijacked by the welcome the abundance brigade, so I always feel like a real old charlatan whenever I write it down.

Anyway, I am British, so as I write the email I make jokes. I want my friend to know that I love him and I’m thinking of him and he is not alone. I can’t quite say that in some many words, which is why I make the jokes. That’s how it works. He can read between the lines. A bit of mild swearing is also useful. Sod ‘em all.

It’s the old saw of: you are not alone. People write a lot about the rampant individualism of the West, the out of control narcissism, the atomisation of society. I think this is a bit overcooked, but it has a grain of truth in it. Alfred Adler, my favourite of the psychologists, wrote a great deal about the importance of community. He believed that for the good life, you need to be stitched in to the human family. I think quite a lot about being part of something bigger than myself. On my more bonkers days, I believe I am a citizen of the world; on the saner days, I feel a little bit better about everything when I have a nice conversation with the ladies in the village shop.

So, when someone is going through it, I don’t say: poor you, or cheer up, or it will all be fine. I make a joke and say, either overtly or by implication: I know just how you feel, I am thinking of you, I can imagine what that is like. You are not alone.

It’s not magic beans. It does not fix anything. It will not miraculously transform a fraught situation. But as they used to say in The Big Chill: ‘you do what you can do.’

You dear Dear Readers did that for me yesterday, with your kind hearts. Thank you for that. It means a lot. 


  1. Oh, just send him THIS

    (with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

    ‘Twas Brexit, and the slithy Gove
    did frottercrutch in dwarfish glee;
    he snicker-snacked the Camerove,

    Beware the stabberjock, my son!
    The empty eyes, the robo-glint!
    who fellobrates the Murdocrone
    the Ruperturtle übergimp!

    He pallerised the BoJo cloon
    they chummed upon their sunderbus
    emblazoned it with fibberoons
    and bambulluntruthoozled us.

    The tousled toddler slaughterchopped,
    his destiplans an Eton mess,
    the slubbergubby gollumgove
    a shadowhand of viciousness.

    O gipperchund! And vomberblast!
    The skitterchit of slick and sly
    the snicker-snack of backstablades
    the scrabblage to ruthlerise.

    The bubberchut of charismissed
    the turdletruck of banalbore
    is patterfrondled on the head
    a pawn upon a checkerboard.

    Beware the stabberjock, my son!
    The empty eyes, the robo-glint
    who fellobrates the Murdocrone
    the Ruperturtle übergimp.

    © Steve Pottinger. 3 July 2016

  2. I think of you saying that something along those lines about sympathy whenever I feel tempted to say poor you. Thank you Tania. X

  3. Very wise words, thank you, Tania. It's too easy to offer pity instead of understanding even though we all dislike being on the receiving end of it. Glad our words soothed your spirits, as yours so often do ours xx Rachel

  4. Blimey this has really got me going and I am babysitting a friends' 12 year old greyhound who has the most doleful eyes so am feeling extra wet ! I always say my heart is English my soul is French but with these loopy few weeks I don't know what I am so I am a Londoner. Quite so - a bit of a jolly and a swearword or too. No saccharine platitudes, no overshare gumph. Tania you remind me of the fundamental joy of being alive -we are able to use these magic things called words and they bring miracles x


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