My office is finished and I finally have my space back (see “Stuff…or How I Won the War”). In honor of, or maybe in obligation to, I decided I better write on my blog since I used that excuse to get my wife’s permission to remodel my office…okay man cave.
I have of recently, been involved in several events that caused me to reflect on a list of words that help define my attitudes. These four words can harm or heal depending on how they are used and in that lies the danger of their misuse. Whenever working with a new staff member, I would make sure they understood how I viewed those words, and to this day, the ones I remain closest to can recite them back. It is just that they were and are that important to me.
The first word is a limiting word when misused. The word is “just”. Now when something is just, that is a desirable thing. But, when one describes what they did as “just” something, it limits them in both their stature as well as their own perspective and self expectation. I all too often hear someone say “I’m just a support staff worker.” This would be to say that as a team member, their position is somehow unimportant. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Without that “support staff member” how does the rest of the team accomplish their share of responsibility to the team and its mission. Take as an example a surgeon. Now that doctor could emerge from surgery patting him or her self on the back for the life that they single handily saved, but what about all the others involved. What about the anesthesiologist who kept the patient both calm and sedated so the doctor could operate? And what about each and every nurse involved in the process leading up to, during and following the surgery. Without their care and assistance, where would the doctor or the patient be? And for that matter, what about the sanitation worker who picked up and disposed of the doctor’s garbage cans that morning? I doubt I would have wanted the doctor worrying about that while he or she performed my surgery. No one should ever be a “just”. Remember that the next time someone asks you what you do. I’m not just a retiree, I am an expert in the art of time use and efficiency while juggling the demanding schedule of a person with the remainder of their life to spend well.
My second word can be just (yes I used it but properly) as limiting. “Fine” has always been a word that when used as the response to “how is” something, leaves me worried that is was anything but fine. Again, I will admit that the word when used properly has good connotations. Fine art comes to mind unless you really meant it was just so so. When the word “fine” is used in any situation, the inflection it is spoken with is critical. The word is all too often used sarcastically or at least dismissively. You ask your wife how she liked the flowers you bought her and her response is “they’re fine”, believe me, the fight you thought you were using the flowers to apologize for is anything but over. There is certainly a counter attack brewing and in all likely hood, you’ll never see it coming. I warned people I worked with that if they asked me how I was doing or how my day was going and I responded “it’s fine”, walk away and live to see another day that might in fact be at least better. At the very least, don’t offer to fix it and certainly, not me.
My next word is in the vain of a descriptor. It can advocate for change or it can inflict guilt or shame. The word is “disappoint”. I have always believed that to tell someone they are a disappointment is close to the worst thing you could say. You have taken them to the lowest emotional level and undoubtedly given them little help in how to correct it. Had you explained that what they “did” was the disappointment, well then there is hope. I can always be careful to not do that again or possibly redo what was so disappointing. Things can be disappointing, people shouldn’t be. The taste of a particular food or the outcome of an event can be disappointing, but that can either be avoided as in the case of food, or hopefully will come out better next time. If a person is a disappointment, the message is that the person is now to be avoided. I will admit that even I have let the word slip and that some of my readers may feel I am being a bit dramatic, but as long as you know how I will take it, this particular blog might be disappointing, but hopefully you didn’t mean I was.
The last of my four words is “never”. Don’t use the word to describe a promise that might not be attainable as in “I’ll never do that again”, because odds are you just might. Avoid using it as a sense of finality as in “that’s never going to happen”. You very likely won’t be around long enough to ever know if it didn’t. “Never” implies that there is no chance for change as in “you are never going to get me to eat that”. Change is inevitable and most of those things I told my parents I would never eat, well I have, and in some cases, raw oysters as an example, have become a delicacy. The finality of the word is “just” too much to promise and might turn out to be a “disappointment”. Here’s where you get to say, “okay fine.”
I know I advertised only four words, and I do reserve the right to add others, but there is one more piece of speech that generally leaves me agitated. It’s actually an acronym for a phrase, FYI. I always wish the speaker would have found a different way to tell me they were sharing information. The FYI statement seems to feel condescending at best. It sort of speaks for itself in saying, if this was really important, I would have found a very personal way of sharing it with you. It all too often comes off as a power statement from the person uttering the FYI. How about “for the sake of clarity” or maybe “because this might be helpful” instead of the “just FYI because I guess YOU missed it.” If I want to get information to you, I want it to feel like a gift or maybe even a secret piece of information I wanted to share with only you.
In concluding this little diatribe of mine, I will share a story about a similar experience with my oldest daughter, Bailey. She was about 3 or 4 years old at the time. We were headed to the grocery store the day after Easter. I remember it was Easter because the whole issue started with her big plastic Easter egg full of goodies. Upon opening the car door in a crowded parking lot, mostly refined gentile ears, her egg dropped to the pavement and cracked open. Nonplussed, Bailey all too loudly declared, “s**t, I dropped my damn egg.” Needless to say, I was mortified, well at least embarrassed, and promptly explained that those were “bad” words and shouldn’t be used. Bailey quickly reminded me “but daddy, you say them too” and now I am really embarrassed. Once back home, Bailey immediately got to work. In no time at all, she had formed a list of words we could no longer use. Topping her list were three words, “but”, “crap” and “junk”. Now I knew she meant “butt”, but (no pun intended) she didn’t differentiate. For quite sometime, I found my colorful description of things severely curtailed, and I had to find a new way of defending my point without the use of the word “but”.
Words are powerful tools. They can hurt or heal. They can advocate change or leave us hopeless. They can convey a message or imply a demand. I am a writer at heart and I can only hope that today I have chosen my words carefully.
Thanks for reading.