Certainly, we should always be honest and authentic in our dealings with people, but discernment is an absolute necessity in our dealings with ALL people. Just because it flies through your brain doesn’t mean it needs to fly out of your mouth, and in fact there are many times when it’s best to keep that thought in your head and fake it till you make it with your words (or silence, depending on the situation). For example, here are some phrases you should eliminate (or at least, drastically reduce) in your vocabulary that will garner more respect, motivate people to cooperate and work well with you, and make you appear more intelligent and savvy:
1. “Whatever.” Nothing coveys the ignorant-inconsiderate-jerk trifecta like this one word phrase. You have the entire English language at your disposal and that’s all you’ve got? If it is, then it’s time to recognize the uncomfortable fact that sometimes, the best course of action is to gracefully back away and let silence be golden. And if you refuse to exercise the right to remain silent, then a simple “I hope that works out for you and wish you luck” is much more dignified than throwing out something that makes you look like a cross between an immature tween and a person that’s learning English as a second language - and isn’t quite getting it.
2. “Do what you’ve got to do.” I don’t hear this one as much as I used to, but it’s still out there, and it’s a sin for the same reasons as “whatever.” More accurately, that’s redneck for “I don’t like what you’re doing and would move Heaven and Earth to stop you, but that would reveal me as a selfish jerk to the rest of the world and I don’t want to do that, so go on and get this over with so you can get back to doing things that make me happy.” It isn’t your job to like or even understand everything that other people do, so let go and accept that people have a right to lead their lives, do things, and make decisions that work best for them regardless of what you say, think, or need. Instead, say “I understand this is important to you.” Even if you don’t and you hope it blows up in their face, just fake it and at least acknowledge their right to live as they see fit. Because I guarantee you’ve done things that made them go “Hmmm” in the past . Plus, if you want people to stay interested in your life, then you have to at least act like you give a crap about them and their life, even if you don’t care about them any more than you care about the extra 40 minutes in a Martian day.
3. “That’s not my problem.” I stand back when people say this because it’s an open invitation for the universe to hit you with its best shot, and that’s a challenge it ALWAYS accepts. Sure, you aren’t responsible for every single thing that happens in the world, and there are some things that aren’t your business, but have some dignity in declining to accept responsibility that you feel isn’t yours. “I’m sorry I can’t help you with that” is much more gracious and doesn’t invite fate, the universe, the world, or whatever you wish to call it to deliver an entirely new batch of problems into your life. Fake sympathy for the other persons’ plight even if you don’t really feel it because you WILL be at the receiving end of this one day, and the measure you get will be the measure you’ve given. It happens to us all.
4. “You don’t really want that,” or “Stop wasting your time on that and do this instead.” Excuse me, when did God appoint you to His position, because that’s what it looks like you’re playing at with either variation of this. You have no way of knowing what’s in other peoples’ hearts or what plans are in store for them, and they aren’t required to get your approval for it, either. People have a right to make their own decisions. You never know what might happen and statements like this may very well make a fool of you one day. Don’t take a chance.
5. “I told you so.” Even if you preface it with the I-hate-to-say-it-but clause, it’s still ridiculous because they already know. Demonstrate some maturity and don’t gloat over somebody’s failings, even if they asked for it and everybody knew it was foolishness from the start. As I said in the last statement, people have a right to make their own decisions and that means having the grace to let them make their own mistakes. Pray they’ve learned from the experience, and don’t gloat lest you wander into folly someday. Because none of us are as smart as we think we are.
6. “ I did that too, and let me tell you how I did it better.” Nobody likes a know-it-all or a show off, and a constant need to one-up people blinks “I’m insecure!” brighter than a digital billboard. You don’t have to be in the spotlight every minute of every day. Back down and let others have their day in the sun every now and then. Because we all know that nobody’s done everything under the sun, and there will always be people out there that have done it bigger, better and more recently than you have. Let go of the competition to always be #1 and learn to be happy with the life the Lord gave you.
7. “If I were you, I’d …” Turn off anybody that prefaces a statement with this immediately, because it’s a clear sign that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Wisdom gives options. Experience shares insight. Ignorance says that if they were you, they’d go out and kick the world in the you-know-where, and that’s most often foolishness that would make a bigger mess of things if anybody were dumb enough to take this advice. Plus, they wouldn’t have the guts to actually do it, because some people are good at telling people to do things they wouldn’t dare do themselves.
8. “You should make them do it.” Guess what? Scientists have found the center of the universe and it’s not you. That’s the fastest way to run a person out of your life. You don’t make anybody do anything they don’t want to do, and if you try to then trust me – you’re ego can’t handle what they really think about you. If you have to control someone every minute to “keep them in line,” then you’re trying to force them into a place or relationship where they don’t belong. Don’t beg people to be your friend or try to force them to your will. Pray for what Joyce Meyer refers to as “divine connections.” Those are friends and acquaintances that you get along with so well that you don’t want to change them because you appreciate how their uniqueness enriches your life.
9. “I would NEVER do that/accept that/put up with that.” Never say never or the Lord will make you do it to show you who the boss really is. One never in your life that’s absolute: you never know what life has in store for you. Someday you could well be dining on crow while dealing with something that you thought you were too smart/special/good for. Life has a way of humbling us, and the “I would never” statements are a GPS on how to get that done.
10. Anything other than “I’m sorry for your loss” and “I’m praying for you and your family” at a visitation or funeral. Anything else sounds stupid and believe me, there’s nothing clever or inspirational you can say that will get through people in the depths of grief. The dumbest things I’ve ever heard have all been said at visitations and/or funerals because people try to justify death and offer comfort in religious platitudes. Folks, I’m Christian too, but this isn’t seminary or time to play preacher. I remember what C.S. Lewis wrote about death not being natural because human beings weren’t created to die and it’s the most painful consequence that we pay for sin. He’s absolutely right. There’s nothing right about death and there’s no way to wrap it up in pretty phrases or platitudes that makes it suck less. So give it up. Don’t engage in conversations with the bereaved if they try to start one, either. This isn’t the time or place to engage in theological discussions, discuss anything beyond condolences for the loss (no gossip or “what’s up with me” statements), and it certainly isn’t appropriate to leverage your personality or make a big impression. It’s a subdued occasion so dial it down, make an appearance, and for goodness sake, shut up.
Maybe you relate to some of this and are nodding, saying thank you for revealing it! Or maybe you see it as a calling out. I certainly don’t mean it that way, and I admit that I’m guilty of uttering some of these phrases. In fact, I had to work at cutting the “whatever” and “I told you so” out of my vocabulary, and I get along with people so much better now that it’s gone. My point is not to say “shame on you.” It’s to shed light on small things that chip away at trust and give guidance that I’ve learned in building bridges to cooperative relationships that last. It takes time and effort, but if modifying my vocabulary slightly will help with that, then it’s an effort worth making. I believe if you’ve read this far then you believe it’s a worthy effort, too.
That’s all today. Take care. I hope you have a Happy Friday tomorrow and a great weekend.