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  • We're often in situations of wanting to help and  be kind to others, but of not knowing quite what  

  • they might be in need of. We'd like to deepen  our connection to them and be of service, and  

  • yet lack a real grasp of what we could plausibly  offer them; their minds seem impenetrable, their  

  • problems opaque. At such moments, we would do  well to remember that we all possess a superpower,  

  • a capacity to give people something we can be  sure they fundamentally require, founded on a  

  • primordial and basic insight into human naturethat all of us are in deep need of reassurance.  

  • Life is a more or less ongoing emergency  for everyone. We are invariably haunted  

  • by doubts about our value, by concerns for  our future, by shapeless anxiety and dread  

  • about things we've done, by feelings of  guilt and embarrassment about ourselves.  

  • Everyday brings new threats to our integrity  and except for very rare moments when we and  

  • the world feel solid, there is almost always  a background throb of unwellness in our minds.  

  • It doesn't matter whether they are old or youngaccomplished or starting out, at the top of the  

  • tree or struggling to get by, we can count on one  thing about anyone we meet: they'll be beset by a  

  • sense of insecurity and, beneath some excellent  camouflage, to a greater or lesser extent,  

  • of desperation. That means that, more than they  perhaps even realise, they'll be longing for  

  • someone to say something soothing to them, a word or two to make them feel that they have a right to exist,  

  • that we have some faith in them, that we know  things aren't always easy for them and thatin a  

  • vague but real waywe're on their side. It could  be a very small, and barely perceptible remark,  

  • but it's effect might be critical: that something  fascinating they said sticks in our minds,  

  • that we know the past few months  might not have been simple for them,  

  • that we've found ourselves thinking of them  since our last meeting, that we've noticed and  

  • admire the way they go about things, that  they deserve a break and are, we can see,  

  • carrying so much. It's easy to mistake the work of  reassurance with flattery. But flattery involves  

  • a lie to gain advantage, whereas reassurance  involves revealing genuine affectionwhich we  

  • normally leave out from embarrassmentin order  to bolster someone's ability to endure. We flatter  

  • in order to extract benefit, we reassure in order  to help. Furthermore, the flatterer tells their  

  • prey about their strengths; the reassurer  does something infinitely more valuable:  

  • they hint that they have seen the weaknessesbut have only tolerance and compassion for them  

  • on the basis of sharing fully in comparable ones  themselves. 'I think you're going to be fine';  

  • 'everyone goes through things like these' 'you  have nothing to be ashamed of…' The words we  

  • need to say to reassure aren't new, they can  be the most apparently banal of sentences,  

  • but we need to keep hearing them because our  minds are extremely bad at holding on to their  

  • nourishing truths. They are, furthermorelines that are a great deal more valuable and  

  • inclined to stick if someone else addresses  them to us than if we try to rehearse them  

  • by ourselves. In 1425, the Florentine artist  Masaccio painted a rendition of Adam and Eve's  

  • expulsion from the Garden of Eden on the walls  of Florence's Church of Santa Maria del Carmine.  

  • We need not believe in any of the supernatural  aspects of Genesis to be profoundly moved by the  

  • horror stricken faces of the banished coupleAnd if we are so, it is because what we see is  

  • a version of an agony that is essentially  universalfor all of us have effectively  

  • been cast out of the realm of comfort and plenty  and obliged to dwell in the lands of uncertainty,  

  • humiliation and grief. All of us are beset  by woes, all of us are worried to the core,  

  • longing for rest and in urgent need of forbearance  and gentleness. Part of the responsibility of  

  • living in a time that broadly no longer believes  in divine reassurance is that we are each of us  

  • given a role to play in delivering part of that  reassurance ourselves, to our fellow sufferers,  

  • in ordinary moments of our ordinary livesWe cannot generally know the precise details  

  • of other people's travails, but we can always  be sure of a few vital things from the outset:  

  • that they are at some level in a mood of pain  and self-suspicion, that certain very big  

  • things will not have gone right, that there  will be intensities of loneliness, anxiety  

  • and shame at play, and that it could hence makevery big difference indeed if we were able to say  

  • something, however modest and even unoriginalto bring a little reassurance into their day.

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We're often in situations of wanting to help and  be kind to others, but of not knowing quite what  

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B1 reassurance longing embarrassment ordinary anxiety valuable

What Everyone Really Wants

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/01/20
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