Here’s the deal: some of you are born with the “listening” gene and know exactly what to say, when and how. But if you’re like most of us, when it comes to dealing with complex problems, you feel like you did on the first day of high school (or middle school)—lost, nervous, confused.
So, stick around. The stories and strategies coming your way will help you know what to say and do when a friend needs your help.
Josh started giving things away—his books, his calculators, his good pens. He wouldn’t need them anymore. Josh had had enough. He couldn’t stand the pressure: all the pushing to stay at the top of his class, to get all A’s, to get into the best college. He was tired. The pain was too much.
Josh had decided to take his own life.
He walked home from school alone, working out the details of his suicide.
“Hey, Josh,” his friend, Dylan, yelled, interrupting his thoughts. Why did Dylan have to bother him now? Josh kept walking.
“Wait up!” Dylan said again, as he ran to catch up with Josh.
Josh didn’t stop.
“What’s wrong with you?” Dylan asked, out of breath, once he’d caught up.
“Why didn’t you wait?”
“Didn’t feel like it.”
“Didn’t feel like it? Well, screw you!”
“Yeah, screw me. That’s what I’m about to do.”
Dylan was surprised. Why was Josh acting so hostile? “Something bothering you?” he asked.
“Yeah . . . lots of things.”
“Like I’ve had it up to here,” he said, pointing to his neck.
“What could possibly be wrong with you?” Dylan asked. “Your life is all set.”
“That’s what you think,” Josh mumbled.
“That’s what I know. You’ve got it all together. Valedictorian of the senior class . . . Harvard freshman. What more could you ask for?”
“Come on, Josh, you’re acting crazy.”
“I feel crazy. I’m all messed up inside.” He paused. Should he even bother?
“You? Messed up? Come on, you’ve got to be joking.”
Fine. He’d tell him. “I’m going to kill myself.”
Dylan looked at his friend. He couldn’t be serious. Not Josh.
“I mean it. I want to die,” Josh said, as if reading Dylan’s thoughts.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Dumb to you, maybe . . .”
Dylan started to laugh. “Here’s Mr. Together telling me he wants to die. Give me a break.”
Josh was angry. “I’ll give you a break,” he said as he walked away. “You’ll never have to deal with me again!”
Dylan stood and watched his best friend practically trip over his own feet in his hurry to get away. Josh was upset. He’d cool off.
Everything would be fine.
Everything was not fine. Dylan followed his plan and took his own life.
• • •
Josh had taken a big risk by letting Dylan in on his problems and his plan. But Dylan hadn’t taken him seriously. Dylan couldn’t believe that someone who apparently had everything going for him would want to kill himself. He was sure Josh was joking. And when Josh told Dylan he was dead serious, Dylan kicked him to the curb. He told him it was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard. Dylan’s inability to listen to Josh without criticizing— without judging—made Josh angry. Here he had opened up and tried to talk about his suicidal feelings, and all he’d gotten was a supposed friend who thought it was all one big joke.
Here’s Take Two of the same story. Only this time, I’ve changed the dialogue to give you some ideas how Dylan could have reacted and said things differently.
DYLAN’S STORY TAKE 2
When Dylan saw Josh giving things away, he thought it was a bit strange. What was Josh doing? Didn’t he need his books, calculators, and pens?
Dylan pulled Josh aside after lunch. “Why are you giving all your stuff away?” he asked.
“Don’t need it,” Josh mumbled. “Don’t need anything.”
Dylan was confused. Josh wasn’t making sense. “I don’t get it,” he said.
“Nobody gets it. That’s the point.”
Josh was talking in circles. “You sound unhappy,” Dylan said.
“I’m not feeling too great. That’s for sure.”
“Interested in talking? If you are, I’m willing to listen.”
Should he tell him? “The pressure is too much. My parents, school, myself . . .”
Dylan felt sorry for him. “It must be rough trying to get all A’s.”
“When I was up for Most Valuable Player of the baseball team, I was so nervous. I couldn’t concentrate on hitting the ball.”
“I know what you mean,” Josh said sadly.
Dylan was afraid. “You’re not thinking of doing anything crazy, are you?”
Josh stared down at his shoes.
“Come on, Josh, fill me in.”
Okay. He’d tell him. “I’m going to kill myself.”
“You’re really down, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” He started to cry. “I can’t take it anymore.”
Dylan bit the inside of his lip. He couldn’t panic. Not now. He’d have to take charge. “I’m worried about you,” he said sincerely.
“I want to help.”
“Nobody can help.”
Dylan had to think fast. “How about talking to Ms. Dreiser?”
“She wouldn’t understand.”
“Why not try her? You might be surprised.”
Josh was tired. “I can handle it. Really, I can.”
“I won’t leave you alone,” Dylan said. “You’re my best friend. I won’t let you hurt yourself.”
Josh was relieved. He slumped down on the floor in front of his locker, knowing that Dylan meant what he had said.
So, why do you think Dylan was more successful this time around ingetting his friend to calm down and believe that Dylan really cared?
• He listened instead of interrupting
• He let Josh say what he had to say without judging him, putting him down, telling him what he should do
• He “mirrored” what Josh was saying. “You sound unhappy.” “It must be tough having to get all A’s.” “I know what you mean.”
• He vowed that he wouldn’t leave Josh alone and told him how much he cared. “You’re my best friend. I won’t let you hurt yourself.”
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