I have stopped expecting people to be emotionally intelligent. Those who are, are few and far between and if I keep expecting this I will simply become more and more disappointed with those around me.

Part of being emotionally intelligent is knowing or figuring out how to deal with the emotions involved when meeting somebody who is living through an unfortunate situation. As a nurse, I deal with this every single day, so I have had plenty of practice. The main ‘trick’ if you want to call it that is this: don’t cry or give looks of pity…those are things that YOU are feeling. In order to be of any help or use to the afflicted person, you need to tune in to what THEY want. Your pity won’t help. 

In Maltese there is the word ‘Miskina/miskin’. I think it translates directly to ‘poor thing’. I hate that word. It is the most unhelpful and condescending word in existence. When people say it, they are showing outwardly that they acknowledge the other person’s suffering but show no desire to actually do anything about it. 

I also think that ‘miskina/miskin’ is a bit of a power trip. When people say it, they often cock their heads to the side and get a sad look in their eyes and say ‘oh, miskina!’ and then go along their day safe in the knowledge that they are not poor things because they do not have the same terrible problems of others. To me, when you pity someone, you are basically saying in a more polite way and in a cloak of pseudo-caring : oh my God, I’m so glad I’m not you.

Which ofcourse, just makes the afflicted person feel worse. People are not stupid. They realise and take note. And then they avoid you.

So here’s what you can do:

1) avoid the words ‘poor thing’. Substitute with ‘I’m sorry you are going through such a hard time.’ Or say something like ‘you know what’s great about bad times? They pass eventually.’ Or ‘you are a strong person. It’s hard, but you can handle this.’

2) offer to help if you can. But if you honestly can’t, don’t make empty offers. Don’t say things like ‘I’m here for you’ if you actually are not. And if you can’t really help, be honest and say so. Say ‘I have a bit too much going on in my life right now, but if things ease up for me, I’m all yours.’

3) be empathic. Remember, you are not immune. Another person’s problem could one day be yours. Something I have learnt while working in a hospital is that in an instant, the tables could turn. You could very well become the person you have called ‘miskina.’ Be mindful of this. And think, would I really want people to pity me?

Pity is a knee-jerk reaction. When we hear bad news about someone, it is only natural to feel sorry for them. But being mindful and emotionally intelligent is about taking those knee-jerk reactions and turning them into something productive. 

As always, my motto is that before you say anything, ask yourself, is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Miskin/Miskina are none of those things.