“Why don’t more people just talk about what’s going on in their life before they take such drastic measures?” wonder the citizens, as they sip their morning coffee and read the depressing headlines. “If someone is having troubles, why don’t they just open up and tell people? Why do they hide it and try to act like everything is okay? I would listen without judging, if someone came to me! I believe in people being open and transparent.”
In theory, I’m sure you do. In real life, I’m not so sure you mean it. Have you ever noticed the comments under news articles, the ones where people bemoan a suicide or similar tragedy and lament, “if only they’d just told us…” Sometimes a conversation spins off of those comments, and people decide the main problem with the hurting one was simply that they wouldn’t open up to others. “We won’t let that happen; we’ll make sure everyone knows they can be transparent with us.” Then they go to work and gossip about co-workers, go to school and mock the kid that is different, or go to church and have superficial “how are you doing? Fine? That’s good” conversations. Sometimes someone might actually seek them out and confide in them, sharing the hidden troubles and burdens. And what are some of the common responses? That can’t really be happening; you must be exaggerating. Or, you must be doing something to cause that situation, let’s see what you can do differently. Or, just pray for wisdom and God will show you how to fix it.
It’s not always that easy. Some problems can’t be fixed in a day or week. Sometimes it’s like a disease that has been slowly destroying your body for years, but there’s no known cure. People can see the physical changes, but rarely take time to learn the cause behind the changes. Or they say you are the cause, and completely ignore the real problem that’s bigger than you.
When you advocate that honesty would be the key to preventing tragedies, have you ever considered that an individual’s honesty might come with a price? That sharing the truth could ultimately make the problem worse, not better? That “honesty” could negatively affect more people than just the one sharing? Stop. Reflect. Have you ever thought about that possibility??
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to hope for transparency and honesty. No, not at all!! To have that in relationships is wonderful and good! The point I’d like to make is that you can’t just expect someone to give you that level of trust and openness, if you aren’t actively caring about them. Not just once in a while. Regularly. Genuinely. If you aren’t close enough to notice the pain in their eyes and wonder what put it there, you aren’t close enough to be trusted with all their secrets.
And, should someone trust you enough to confide in you, respect them. Offer them a listening ear. Even if what they say is shocking, don’t be so quick to say they can’t possibly be telling the truth. Don’t judge them. Love them, and let them know you still care about them after hearing their secret burdens. They became vulnerable by telling the truth; show them they are safe in your friendship and won’t be betrayed. Don’t be the critical “friend” who sends them away and lets them become just another headline in the morning paper.