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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Review of Val Walker's The Art of Comforting

It's been a while between posts.  Not for lack of content, but lack of time to post.  Without further ado, following is Teresa's review of The Art of Comforting.  It sounds like we could all find wisdom and peace in this book - I think will need to borrow from her.

Tragedy and loss can bring out the best and worst in people; September 11, natural disasters, foreclosure, military deployment, job loss, divorce, illness, injury, death, and the uncertainties of everyday life offer us the opportunity to help others in their struggles and tragedies. But just as clothes are not one-size-fits-all, comforting requires some customization as well. In her book The Art of Comforting: What to Say and Do for People in Distress, Val Walker delves into this nearly-forgotten venue of human interaction; what she found is comforting people are everywhere, including in ourselves.

She begins with her own difficulties after a divorce: the canned responses, the lack of camaraderie, the isolation. A visiting friend, skilled at comforting, rescues her from the quagmire of her unhappiness and so begins her journey of trying to understand how to help others with sincerity. While many self-books are written to help people deal with one or a few types of difficulties, she couldn’t find anything that described how people truly can help others. 

Dismayed at the lack of comfort in our world, Val sought out those who have succeeded in comforting people. She wanted to go much deeper than merely asking what they did by asking: When should you reach out and how often? What should you say or write? What words or phrases are and, more importantly, are not comforting? What if someone resists your help? What strategies enable you to provide consolation and reassurance in a genuine manner? How do you help others (as well as yourself) put and keep everything in perspective?
Val dispels many myths and misunderstandings of being a comforting person: we need years of training (e.g., formal courses or a college degree); we need to be compassionate (“warm and fuzzy”); we need to be good conversationalists, always knowing what to say; we need to be cheerful or always upbeat; we need to be always available at a moment’s notice, etc. Instead, she tells of people who, in both small and big ways, reach out to someone or groups of individuals in need of understanding and hope; how art, nature, animals, and entertainment can aid in the surviving and healing process; how both adults and children can learn to be comforters, even in this techno-paced world; and how to deal with loss when it is or was inevitable. 

Throughout the book, Val stresses that there are no patented tricks or copyrighted secrets; anyone is capable, if he or she has the desire to make someone’s life a little easier today so that person can make it until tomorrow. Perhaps St. Francis of Assisi would agree (paraphrasing his famous prayer): “Oh, Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand...” 

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