I’m a pastor. This means that people come to me with their problems. Whatever you do, you probably face your fair share of people coming to you with problems and need a wise approach for handling these situations.
Our natural instinct is to fix problems. Problems need fixing and solving. But, not so fast. Rushing in to fix people’s problems is “problematic” for at least two reasons: 1) most of the time people want you to feel their problem, to listen to them, more than they want a fix 2) most of the time you don’t have the ability to fix a person’s problem.
The next time someone shares a problem with you, feel it first. Listen well. Put yourself in their shoes, try to feel what they’re feeling. This is empathy. To do this you’ll have to connect with a part of yourself, perhaps a painful part of your story, that knows that feeling. I’m continually astonished by the power, love, care, and help you can communicate to someone simply through feeling their problem, empathizing.
As and after you feel a person’s problem, consider whether you might be in a position to help fix the problem. Does the person want you to fix it? Do you have the wisdom, ability, or resources to fix the problem? Is this something you’re called to help with? If the answers to those questions are “yes,” then do what you can to help.
Feel it first, fix it second. Western culture is deeply pragmatic (fix it!). If we can increasingly become both empathetic and pragmatic, we could solve problems and care for one another in a more beautiful way.
Jesus modeled this well. When Mary and Martha told Jesus their brother Lazarus was dead, Jesus first felt the problem. Jesus wept. After tears were shed, Jesus solved the problem. He raised the dead. Let’s feel people’s pain before we try to fix people’s pain.
Note: Much of what’s above does not apply if you have a job in a busy service industry, say at Comcast, to fix a person’s cable TV. If my cable is broken I don’t need you to feel it first. Just fix it.
Photo: The big lego problem in my sons’ bedroom.