Author seeks to reconnect divided world through comfort strategies
Former Ridgefielder Jen Marr recently published her book “Paws to Comfort,” which acts as an instructional guide about the importance of providing comfort as well as offering different methods people can employ to offer comfort to others. Marr, who is also the founder of Inspiring Comfort LLC, a company focused on offering comfort related programs and workshops, said she decided to write the book because she has experienced a variety of traumas and also worked with LCC K9 Comfort Dogs where she volunteered to bring comfort dogs to disaster settings. The book, which she wrote in collaboration with Time’s senior design coordinator Skye Quinn, also features a workbook for readers to practice and test out different comfort techniques.
TinaMarie Craven: What inspired you to write this book?
Jen Marr: Repeatedly throughout my life I have found myself in disasters and tragedy and trauma. My nickname growing up was Disaster Annie and that followed me through being at a terrorist attack in London, being at one in Boston, my husband was at 9/11, I was in a tornado, I was in an earthquake in San Francisco; so it’s just crazy circumstances that I was constantly around tragedies. Through this all, my heart really grew a deep care for people that were hurting and not only that as each one happened I was less thrown off by the tragedy as I was focused on how many people were hurting. When I began working with the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs at disaster settings in the area, just in schools and communities after disasters happened ... I saw how the dogs were needed. All of those breadcrumbs of my life came together in a way that I realized us humans need to step up and we can use these dogs as one of our best teachers of humanity to lead us back to the path that we’ve lost a little.
TC: How do you define comfort?
JM: We’re living in quite a divided society and people are looking for ways to mend that. What we found is there are many times where we need to go deeper than kindness. Then we looked at things like empathy and compassion and emotions we need to have. Even when you focus on those things you can fall into what Harvard University calls the “empathy action gap” where you can feel sorry for somebody but not act on it because you’re busy. So focusing on empathy and compassion as beautiful as those things are still sometimes doesn’t end in a connection with someone that’s hurting. So what we found with comfort, though, is that when we put it together as a skill and created the steps of how you can actually go comfort someone it’s impossible to comfort someone without connecting to them. Because if you don’t connect with them, you’re not comforting them. So by the sheer act of a required connection you then form a comforting relationship with someone that is sometimes lacking in the other ways that the skill is taught. So we define comfort as a skill that carries all these other traits with it because you listen better when you comfort, you have compassion and empathy in your heart when you comfort, you are very intentional when you comfort.
TC: How do dogs provide comfort?
JM: Sometimes I like to say that our best teachers of humanity aren’t even human. They put you first, they love, they forgive, they don’t judge. I think sometimes we can be quite judgmental and how the world is so divided right now, dogs don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, dogs really look to you to see what you need. The ability that they’re never at a loss for words and they are just present. They know when to rest, they know when to pause, they know when you’re needed and they know when they need to bring joy.
TC: Why is comfort important?
JM: The mental health epidemic is growing rampantly, there’s enormous amounts of loneliness, anxiety, depression. Suicide is on the rise, drug abuse is on the rise and all of these things at the basis of it happens mostly because of a disconnection with each other. The need is so great and it’s only growing, we’re only moving into a far more busy, chaotic and divided world and as that happens our stress levels are going through the roof and troubles pile up. Every single person you meet is dealing with something so when we begin to look at people in that light and we know how to give them care it can really make a huge difference with tiny little actions.
TC: What is the most important thing people need to know about providing comfort?
JM: We like to think is that we should look at each person as a jar in need of filling and so each time you reach out to someone, it’s like putting a marble in their jar and I think the thing that is most critical is knowing that people’s jars need lots of marbles continuously for years and years and years.
TC: How should someone in need of comfort ask for it?
JM: The main thing is to be open and to communicate that and be honest and to say when you need something and say when you’re not ready for it. I think that the other thing too, is to be patient with people. We are pretty clumsy sometimes and make mistakes and if we don’t do anything it can make someone feel sad, if we do too much. it can be overwhelming, if we say the wrong thing, it can be hurtful.
TC: How can silence be used to provide comfort?
JM: Our life is really busy now and sometimes it’s in the stillness and the quiet that we can bond with each other. Silence is so important and it ties back to dogs because dogs don’t talk and they’re present and they listen. When we aren’t comfortable with silence, when we’re not comfortable with listening, we want to fill it with words and when we want to fill it with words, we’re the one talking, which might lead to advice when the person whose hurting really just wants someone that’s there, that’s present, that cares and maybe wants to share, maybe doesn’t. But silence is where the magic will happen where you can find out how exactly you can help that person.
For more information about “Paws to Comfort,” visit inspiringcomfort.com.