WTF, by Steve Safran

An oft-viewed post on this little site is What to Say to Someone with Cancer. That gets a lot of hits as October nears and everything from eggbeaters to sock garters is dipped dyed pink as otherwise good people Sympathize for Awareness. The best reaction to my crap news was similar to Steve’s. Matt phoned just to say, “FUCK. Should we go get drunk?” Stevie outlines the reasons why these expletives are the best.

Of all the reactions I received telling people I had cancer, the most empathetic came from my cousin, Gregg. He called right after he heard the news.

“WHAT THE FUCK?” said Gregg, getting right to the point.

It was absolutely the right thing to say. That’s not to discount the many sympathetic calls I got in those early days. People expressed their love, concern, prayers, and hope for my speedy recovery. And that was nice. It’s just, well, “What the fuck?” was on a closed, repeating loop in my head and it was a relief to hear it aired aloud. Gregg nailed it.

Hence, the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Sympathy says, “I’m sorry to hear it. But you’ll get better.”

Empathy says, “I’m coming over.”

Sympathy says, “Don’t cry. You’ll be fine.”

Empathy says, “Cry. This is something to cry about. I’m getting more Kleenex.”

Sympathy says, “I know you’ll be fine. I had a friend who had this, and he got better.”

Empathy says, “Scootch over. Let’s watch Netflix.”

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with sympathy. Sympathy comes from a good place. And oddly, a cancer diagnosis quickly reveals that there are people who actually struggle with sympathy. These are the ones who say stuff like “At least you don’t have double cancer” or other it-could-be-worse scenarios. They say, “You should stay positive” or “Get over it” when you’re sad. When was the last time you “got over” anything—much less cancer— on demand? “Let it go” is another doozy. Oh, I was going to hang on and stay scared and angry, but since you said “Let it go,” I’m just gonna let it go. Thanks. Who wants to go for sushi?

Empathy doesn’t require solutions. It doesn’t even want them. “What the fuck?” says a whole lot. It says, “I’m mad, too,” “This sucks,” “I hear you,” and it respects a shitty moment with appropriately angry humor. Sympathizers are sorry, and you’ll feel that; but empathizers are already pouring you three fingers of scotch or queuing up Breaking Bad episodes.

People will try to come up with solutions when there aren’t any. This is human and forgivable– it comes from a feeling of helplessness. But there’s a better way to help: don’t make any suggestions at all. A cancer patient (or someone who’s depressed or stressed or addicted or mourning or any number of afflictions) is already losing sleep over possible solutions. What helps is having someone just to be there and share those uncomfortable feelings.

“Why the fuck is this happening to me?”

“I have no idea. Sucks, though. And I hate that it is.”

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Breast-feeding request brings out the worst in people… by Steve Safran

All Kara Sassone wants is a place for women to breastfeed or pump at Gillette Stadium. As any lactating mom will tell you, even if you don’t bring your tiny child to the game, you’ll probably need to pump by halftime. So, Kara started a petition online. WBZ (the CBS affiliate in Boston) picked up the story and ran it on the news, which I expected would garner lots of support. Maybe some knuckle-dragging men would balk, but surely the women would support this, right? Even a “portable pod” accommodation without need for any substatial stadium real estate could be an easy, affordable solution. Providing a safe, clean spot for a breast-feeding mom hardly distracts from the entertainment at hand. Other stadiums have made this accommodation, after all. It’s not a major request, right? RIGHT?

Except that it is.

At this point, I should disclose that Kara is my friend, and I’m surprised and saddened that her pro-family, pro-Patriots, pro-breast-feeding request would inspire hate mail and nastygram posts. Kara is a kind person. She is also a mother of twins, a great mom, and a huge sports fan. She is fun, funny, and not the sort of person who demands stuff just because she’s the only mom who ever existed. There’s my bias. But if you met her, it would be yours as well.

The obvious, less vitriolic counterpoint to Kara’s request is that football games at Gillette are no place for babes at the breast. There’s some truth to that– I won’t even bring my young teens. It’s become a nasty place with some chance of witnessing drunken brawls, vomiting, and filthy language. But first of all, our sporting venues aren’t really in the business of policing parenting styles. Second, even moms who left babies at home with a sitter might need to pump during the game. Third, there are plenty of “family friendly” events at Gillette besides football games. Fourth, there are likely Gillette employees who might benefit from a private place to feed or pump. Fifth, OH MY GOD, THERE ARE TOO MANY REASONS WHY IT’S A GREAT IDEA THAT HARMS NO ONE.

Many of the responses to Kara’s request are, at worst, so awful they will make you hate mankind. Womankind, too. And there is the surprising part for me, a guy. I might expect the sports radio call-in types to be jackasses. But women are being pretty vicious, too. To what end?

Take a look at the Facebook post.

Here’s a sampling of comments from both genders:

Marybeth Michaelson: Stay home selfish mother and care for your infant, the infant deserves a calm, peaceful, comfortable home environment. Bringing an infant to Gillette for any reason, DCF should be investigating (you)…

Steve Link: What’s next tranny bathrooms?

Cindy Burns: I nursed both of my kids and never pumped, never had any of these issues, didn’t try to bring them places they didn’t belong.

Patrick Moore: Maybe if you decide to have kids you should be able to deal with the fact that you won’t be able to do all of the things you used to do and just stay home

Sally Donaldson Taylor: The world does not need to bow to you as if you were the first and only woman to give birth…. Suck it up Buttercup

And so on. Yes, there are messages of support…

Wendi Ankney: Such misogynistic hate in this comment section. We were all born from a woman… The baby doesn’t have to be AT THE GAME. Women who breastfeed have to pump on a schedule. It’s illegal to force the use of a restroom to do so.

Stephen Tuck Jr.: YES!!! Every stadium in the country should have one.

Matthew Baughn: Why wouldn’t you cater to the ones who use your facilities? If you (host) events that encourage mothers with young children to attend, you’d better make their experience safe and healthy.

However, you really need to cherry pick the comments to find the supportive mentions. The comments I selected from naysayers were the least offensive, to be honest. And, mind you, these are people posting under their real names.

I have to believe this nonsense falls under the greater category of “breasts make people crazy.”  Note how bananas people get about breastfeeding in public. Note how social media will censor pictures of breastfeeding women. Note how even a quick flash of a breast (or, gasp, a baby feeding there) will bump up a movie’s rating.

Kara Sassone wants a place to feed and pump while she’s at the stadium. Football has been vicious to women this year. Robert Kraft, on the other hand, is a generous and thoughtful person. Get this done.

Even teeny Pats fans get hungry at the game...

Even teeny Pats fans get hungry at the game…