Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's out of your hands

Dear Ella,

I play mah-jong with the same group of women every week. We’ve been playing together for many years and have become close friends. Janice, one of the members of the group, was just diagnosed with breast cancer. She told us all individually. She said she didn’t want the mood or the conversations at our games to change. We often talk about life situations when we get together – anything from shopping to rotten kids and everything in between. We know we need to respect Janice’s wishes not to discuss her health at our games.

Ruthie, one of the other women, does and says whatever she wants. No matter what’s going on, Ruthie manages to twist it around and only see how it affects her. She dominates the conversation with her problems week after week. She is a good person, but a little hard to take.

We were all shocked when at our last game, she brought up how difficult it was when her aunt had cancer and how it turned the whole family upside down. I wanted to reach across the table and duct tape her mouth shut. Janice excused herself early, claiming she had a headache.

Talking to Ruthie and letting her know will only have an effect for a short time, because she doesn’t really hear any kind of criticism. You can see in her eyes that she isn’t listening. What should we do? It was a very uncomfortable evening for all of us.

Sad Mahj Member

Dear Sad Mahj Member,

No one has control over the personalities of others. They say that “it takes all kinds” to make the world interesting, but it’s unfortunate that Ruthie lacks the sensitivity that’s so needed here.

Janice has a battle ahead of her, and she wanted to use your weekly mah-jong games as an escape. Since you’re all close, Janice knows what kind of person Ruthie is, so her little story about her aunt probably wasn’t a surprise.

There are a few things you can do. Start by bringing it to Ruthie’s attention. She’s so self-absorbed that she didn’t have a clue how her story affected her friend. I’m sure she didn’t tell the story out of malice. She just can’t see past her own life. People like Ruthie suck the energy out of those around them. They cause a lot of eye rolling and thoughts of “here we go again.”

Since no one can really control Ruthie’s mouth, you may experience some uncomfortable moments at your games in the future. You can try to jump in and change the subject or try handling the situation with humour. A funny line hurts less than an embarrassing serious moment.

Maybe Ruthie will pick up on what your are doing and stop, but she may be so far gone that she won’t even realize what’s happening.

At the end of the day, it will all be up to Janice. If having a place to escape to is important to her, she will have to sit down and have a talk with Ruthie and lay down some ground rules. You can only go so far to create that comfortable place for Janice to escape to.

It’s times like this that really test the bonds of friendship.

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