Life is contradiction. In the same night I interacted online with two friends fighting horrid, deep personal fears, and I have to conclude I handled one of them pretty much exactly right and the other exactly wrong.
The success was one of my oldest, dearest friends, terrified by upcoming dental work. I offered sympathy, friendly words, a place in my (virtual) lap, shared one of the things I'm so afraid of the thought can bring me to the brink of vomiting, and all was about as well as could be.
The failure was still an old friend and someone I like greatly, terrified of being labeled a freak. As a result he tries to hide everything non-generic about him, to the point that one night he refused to say what he in-character liked to eat. The glimpses of the real him are fascinating enough I keep trying to draw him out, and more than once this has degenerated into a furious cross-examination.
I know, every single time we have this fight -- that's what it feels like, anyway -- that I'm treating him wrong. People who complain of problems don't want solutions first and foremost; they want sympathy first. I know that, and the first experience above shows I know it. You can't reason a person out of the things which terrify them; a phobia is by definition irrational. I know that too and I proved that to myself above again.
I'm mystified that I treated the one friend in a way I'm confident was right, and another I'm sure was wrong, within hours of one another. Part of it's the difference in how well I understand both of them, sure. Some of it's that a fear of dental work is mostly irrelevant. So what if you are scared? It's something you encounter only a few days in a decade at most -- your life's not much better or worse if you have the fear or are cured. But the fear of showing real personality drags a person down daily. Somehow I've trapped myself into thinking it's urgent I help cure him, which I can't do online, and know I can't do, and which isn't my place to try unless he wants me to help fix him. One of the other things I know and keep stupidly forgetting is that I don't know enough about other people's lives to try fixing them, and they're justified in resenting my efforts however foolishly well-intentioned.
And yet virtually every day I see the second friend, and I try doing something ``good'' for him that ends with him running off to a private room and apologizing for what is plainly my bad sense.
The cold finally got my temperature up to a whopping 37.1 Celsius, by the way, and if it's not feeling better yet at least I'm more functional.
Trivia: The curve, including spirals near the North and South pole, which one traces out on the globe by following a constant compass direction (a path which is a straight line on a Mercator map) is known as a loxodrome. Source: Mathematics in Civilization, H. L. Resnikoff and R.O. Wells Junior.
Currently Reading: Shakespeare's Kings: The great plays and the history of England in the Middle Ages, 1337-1485, John Julius Norwich. Almost done. I bet the answer is Henry Bolingbroke did it.