Evidence that we don't always have the right words to say at the right time
That's me. Eager to be helpful. Caring Parent of the Year.
But it's instinctive, isn't it, to say something completely inadequate in the face of crisis? It's a strange feature of the way we communicate sympathy. What about the following situations ...
When someone's fallen over and is lying flat on their face, we say: 'Oh, no, are you okay?'
When someone's just set off down the road to the shops, then lets themselves back in five minutes later, cursing and stomping, we say: 'Did you forget something?'
When we come across someone sobbing their hearts out ....
To their credit, most people don't turn round and say, 'Have you got nothing more useful to contribute in my time of distress?' but they'd be justified.
A short play entitled 'How To Tell Whether You are Suited to Work in the Public Services'
Daytime. Busy city street. A passer-by comes across a woman who has just been hit by a bus and is lying on the pavement.
Passer-by Oh, no! Are you okay?
Woman Okay? Well, apart from the fact that I'm bleeding profusely from a major artery, have a bump on my head the size of the Middle East, and one of my legs is lying in the middle of the road, I'm fine. I've been better, but I can't complain.
Passer-by Can I do anything to help?
Woman Well, that would be very kind, but I'm sure there are others more in need. If you carry on down the street, I'm certain there'll be some old lady who's dropped her purse, or a dog who's feeling lonely and wants someone to pat it. Don't you worry about me. Go where the help's most needed.
Passer-by Shall I call an ambulance?
Woman Well, I guess that's one of your options. Or you could call a plumber, perhaps. A painter and decorator? No, look, why don't you give Pizza Hut a bell and order a pepperoni with extra olives to eat while you stand there watching me die?