Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Talking on Eggshells--Time to chill about all things Words

Have you ever had one of those friends to whom nobody can ever seem to say the right thing? They are forever complaining about the insensitive things this or that person said when their goldfish died, or could you believe it that so-and-so had the nerve to console them with the phrase, “I understand.” Or maybe you have friend who thinks everything said in jest, every knock-knock joke, every off-the cuff comment is a personal dig at him. Maybe you've heard something like, 'Can you believe Auntie Whosit said that about this political issue, or that iconic figure (on his birthday no-less) in this economic climate?' Or maybe you have come across these kind of doozies on your newsfeed, ‘5 things NOT to say to somebody with Anxiety' or 'The words I REALLY needed to hear after my hernia repair,’ or even 'Why the words “Be positive” need to be thrown out of our vocabulary.’ I'm no innocent. To give you an example, it used to drive me to drinking when people called my less-than-talkative daughter 'shy.' Like, how could people be so rude and insensitive? Because 'shy' is a profanity now, didn't they know? It's all a bit exhausting.

The thing is people are SO sensitive about everything to do with words these days! It seems like we are all 'talking on eggshells,' forever worried that we are going to offend someone if we fail to choose the exact right words and deliver them in the exact right tone in the most timely of fashions. Or worst of all, we fear utilizing a politically incorrect term like ‘cheating’ (now academic dishonesty). gasp. Now, no doubt there is plenty of value in choosing our words carefully or facilitating the evolution of language over time, but I'm going to put forth the argument that maybe we have reached a point where we just have to chill the f#&k out about this stuff. It seems the only safe thing to say these days is, well, nothing or to craft words as cleverly and precisely as a politician being questioned about his expense account. #NoFun

Well, here's a newsflash for all of us...You can't control what other people say, and, as a matter of fairly basic democratic principle, you shouldn't try. Here's another news flash... People are different, and they may utilize language differently for a variety of reasons. Maybe they are an octogenarian, and they aren't familiar with the most current PC lingo, or maybe they are younger and lack complicated social filters. Who knows? Maybe they come from a family or culture where being blunt is more acceptable or desirable than you are comfortable with. Maybe they are trying to make a joke, lighten the mood, or commiserate. Maybe they just flat-out hold a different opinion than you. Maybe they suffer from speech anxiety, struggle with a second language, or are generally inarticulate for reasons that are none of your business. Maybe, maybe, maybe! Maybe LOTS OF THINGS! The point, as far as I can see it, is not so much the words themselves but the intention behind them. Is it asking too much to use one's reason and judgement to read the intention behind others' words and to react accordingly? So, for example, last week in a text conversation with a friend, at one point she replied, ‘Your illness sux balls.'  Now, I could have chosen this as an opportunity take offense at her insensitivity or political incorrectness, or I could choose to accept the words with the intention with which they were offered. I chose the latter, and I promise you, from this friend, in this situation, it was the most supportive thing I could ever have hoped to hear—made my week actually. I’m so thankful she didn’t feel the need to ‘talk on eggshells’ for my benefit.


The temptation to get your knickers in a twist about someone else’s arguably poor choice of words in this day and age can be strong at times, and I would go as far as to say there is even plenty of societal pressure to do so. But seriously, people, getting upset about this kind of stuff is a trap of your own setting, because, as I said, you can’t control what comes out of other people’s mouths…All you can control is your reaction to it. So my best advice the next time you find yourself on the cusp of this type of upset? Consider the offending phrase or paragraph, and ask yourself what the speaker’s intentions were. If they were not ill, chill! Save your pissed-off for something else. Failing that, consider providing the rest of us with a script of acceptable words and phrases that we may utilize in your presence, because, quite frankly, it’s all bit exhausting.