Having gone through chemotherapy (with very little support from my friends), I can say that the following article misses the point entirely:

What Not To Say When Someone Is Sick

While Novella’s conclusions are mostly correct, especially w.r.t. the Dunning-Kruger identification, he misses the point that all advice is like this. It’s especially obvious with unsolicited advice. But it’s true with all advice, including the advice you receive from your doctor.

A better way to go about translating what others find beneficial (including both scientific and anecdotal) is through stories and explanations. You do not want others’ advice on what you should do/be. You simply want others to tell you what they think and what they know. And the best way to do that is through stories. Tell me what happened to you. Don’t abstract and generalize into “rules about the way the world works”. Just tell me the story and let me take from it whatever I can.

So the next time you’re tempted to give advice, stop yourself and reformulate what you were going to say as a story.

One thing Novella is absolutely wrong about in the above post is “practical support”. And it’s one of the reasons I didn’t get much support from my friends. I didn’t need anyone to drive me to appointments or take my (non-existent) kids to school. But one thing I did need was stories … stories about how others handle chronic pain, stories about others’ experience with chemo, stories about how they think about looming death, do not resuscitate orders, etc. Few would tell me such stories because of the very bad advice Novella is giving in this article.


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