Jennifer Frances Armstrong writes:
If I try to think back to my own situation of needing others’ help, which was a very long time ago, the one element I was always craving — but never actually got — was simple moral support. The one form of academic training that just about undid me in terms of effectively combating any form of abuse was philosophical idealism, which was taught very strongly as a form of moral solipsism that we were all obliged to embrace in order to be properly intellectually trained and psychologically well-adjusted.
I think the issue of moral support is very interesting, so I wanted to discuss it here. I’m very fortunate in having a person who will always provide unwavering support and understanding for me in any situation. That person is my sister. I know that no matter what situation I find myself in, I can share it with her and she will say, “I love you and I’m always 100% on your side, and nothing will change that. You know this, right?” And after that she will offer a very direct and honest opinion about the situation, without mincing words and trying to dance around the issue. If she thinks I’m being a blathering fool, she will inform me about that in great detail and provide many thought-out arguments in support of that opinion. Then, we will talk about the situation for as long as I need and as many times as I need until I find a solution.
It is really great to have somebody who will always tell you their honest opinion and will discuss anything that bothers you at great length.
Many people, however, have a completely misguided understanding of moral support. They think it consists of pandering to your self-esteem with facile asseverations as to how you are right about everything and things will be great with no effort on your part.
Recently, for example, I shared with somebody that I thought I was messing things up in a certain important area of my life. “I think I’m making XYZ mistakes,” I said, “and that always comes back to harm me.”
“Oh no,” the well-wishing moral supporter objected. “You do everything perfectly well. There is absolutely no problem you have here. You are wonderful and everything you do is right.”
I found this to be the opposite of helpful. I felt like my serious concerns were dismissed and I was being shut up.
It seems like people are so terrified of hurting anybody’s feelings that they often resign themselves to completely shallow, superficial relationships. In any profound, honest relationship, there is bound to be rawness of sentiment and even pain. Don’t we rob ourselves of genuine human contact when we see moral support as nothing but a string of platitudes aimed at distancing ourselves from a person who is facing problems?
It is very easy to respond with, “Oh, you are so great and everything is fantastic” whenever a person tries to share what bothers them. But doing that destroys the possibility of a worthwhile relationship, leaving instead a faked connection that has no depth to it.
“You matter enough to me that I am willing to risk angering and antagonizing you with my honesty,” a friend once said. And that’s how I knew he was a real friend to me, not just somebody who wanted to ingratiate himself with me by faking complete acceptance where, in truth, there was nothing but indifference.