One of the phrases I’ve come to really appreciate is “is there more?” This goes beyond the “how was your day” type questions and, when placed well in a conversation, can really show the other that you want to see them and understand. Part of why I find this phrase such a gem is that it’s rare – I didn’t start employing it until my premarital classes in 2012 and even now, my instances of using it are still, sadly, few and far between. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it seems like a hard phrase to use. That said, it’s well worth it.
It asks you to delay your turn to talk even longer. It asks you to keep listening, keep paying attention, keep walking in that person’s shoes. It asks you reflect, active-listening style, rather than react with your own thoughts. As I’ve said, difficult, but truly worth it. What people are willing to share when they feel seen and heard and wanted is, I’ve found, some of the most beautiful of their stories. Expressing a desire to put on someone else’s shoes opens people up, softens the hearts they are often protecting and guarding. When you ask someone if there is more to their story in a genuinely interested way, you are offering them relief from the isolation most of us know all too well. You are signing up for an opportunity to empathize more deeply.
Brene Brown, a researcher who studies vulnerability and shame, says that an empathetic response never begins with, “At least…”, as in, “at least such and such working out.” She goes on in this clip to explain how a better empathetic response would be “me too.” Instead of standing above the hole someone has fallen into, saying, “Oh, you poor dear!” climb into the hole with them and sit with them. Obviously, this action has its merits. No one likes being condescended to and again, most people carry around this sense of separation from others, like people will generally not understand them or their stories. That is heavy and wearying. Hearing the words “me too” is basically like hearing the words, “You’re not alone,” and that can be enough to break the power of the other person’s pain. To be able to say, “me too” genuinely Brown says that you have to reach back into your own life and recall a painful experience similar to one your friend is going through. This requires vulnerability and vulnerability requires courage.
The problem I have with this model is its potential to redirect the conversation. I am a person who struggles with talking about myself too much and overwhelmed many good people trying to help me. It’s really not because I think I’m more interesting or important than my friends. It’s because I’m still trying to find a balance between processing the backlog of stuff I didn’t feel safe my whole life to talk about and being a good friend and listener. Saying “me too” does not *necessarily* lead to a switch in subject – as in, away from the original speaker and to the person who was originally supposed to be listening. But its potential to do so is greater, in my opinion, than asking, “Is there more?”
People need to know they’re not alone. A dear professor and friend keeps on his conscience the times throughout his 60+ years on this planet he has turned his back on people for precisely this reason. Most of the times he ignored people or left them in their isolation were when he was much younger (middle school or earlier), but when he tells me of these people, his eyes still fill with tears and his voice breaks. He has vowed not to be too busy for someone who wants to give them a piece of their heart, and this has come at great professional expense to him. It is this choice of his, to walk with others that ask for some of his time, that has been a vital ingredient in my healing journey. The way he put it, “With you, I have tried to see as much as you’re willing to show me and then bounce it back to you to let you know that it has been seen.”
He has been able to do this more effectively through “is there more” type questions – and, actually, just asking more questions – than if he were to just simply leave things at “me too.” (Though he has been able to empathize with me more than just about any other person I’ve met; he says it’s because “we’ve had to fight some of the same demons.”) I’m not saying it has to be either “me too” or “is there more?” Both are necessary in a conversation that seeks to see the other and truly be with the other. You have to climb down into the pit first. But then you have to ask to be shown around. Most people want and need to be pursued. Is there any question that God desires this from us as well? “Seek and you shall find,” Matthew tells us in 7:7. Not just anything, of course; this is said in the context of instructions for living rightly (do not judge, notice the log in your own eye before pointing out the speck in another’s, do not hurl your pearls before pigs). This is about seeking the Lord. God’s universe is so big, God’s world so intricate and complex, God’s heart so deep…all that God is and God has made, it seems, is for our exploration. We will find, God says…if we seek. If we keep on asking, through prayer, through study, through science, etc., “is there more?”
And this is what Jesus does with humanity. He climbs down into the pit of the human condition – without sacrificing a bit of His divinity – and, with each step as a man, with each breath as human – asks, “Is there more?” And as he does this, as he lives more and more of a human life, he is able to touch each part of what it means to be human, to say “me too,” to every aspect of our human existence, right up to and through death. Jesus looks on death at Calvary and says, “me too.” And then, in the tomb, He asks, “is there more?”