‘Mean what you say and say what you mean,’ may be the most under utilized piece of advice

A while back, I was having an argument with someone close to me. No, not my wife. Of course, not her. It had to be someone else . . .

So, I suddenly had this thought . . . I keep saying this thing (I can’t remember what it was), and then she keeps saying another thing (because I’m a guy, I definitely don’t remember what that was). And I thought, “It’s like no matter how many times I say ___, she never seems to absorb it. She always comes back with something that’s not related.”

Now, the obvious criticism on myself is, “Did you actually listen to what she said?” It’s hard to argue that I did, since I just admitted to not remembering what it is she said.

But in my defense, I also can’t remember what I said, so was I not listening to myself either?

Don’t give some elvish-riddle as an answer.

But let’s side step that. It occurred to me, as I thought about this empasse, that what I was saying, wasn’t actually what I wanted to communicate. There was something I wanted to communicate–in a crude fashion (not vulgar, I mean rough, unfinished)–but I believed it was unacceptable. So what I ended up doing was finding a polite lie to say instead. Now, I’m not about to go all Trump on the world and just start lashing out with whatever garbage is in my soul and call it, “Telling it like it is.” But sometimes I say something that I don’t really mean, because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, but then I get mad because they don’t get the message!

About this time, I read a part of B’resheit (Genesis), where Ya’akov (Jacob) is hearing about Yosef’s dreams. The scriptures say, Ya’akov reproves Yosef as if Ya’akov is disregarding the dreams as childish foolishness, but then says he guarded the sayings in his heart. Why would you do that if you were disregarding? And why, for a younger son who was prophecied to be greater than his older brother, who was the grandson of a younger son who was prophecied to be greater than his older brother . . . why would that person find offensive the idea that the youngest son of his beloved would rule over the older sons from a less beloved wife?

I think some commentaries make a good suggestion, that Ya’akov did believe the dreams, but didn’t want to offend the other brothers. But in fact, what follows is that the brothers get more angry. Before that, we had another situation (with Dinah), where the brothers also say something they don’t mean (terms for getting Dinah) that they never intended to keep–I think the terms were designed to be too high, hoping Shekhem would release Dinah rather than pay. And what happened? Turns out, Shekhem would pay and so they end up ‘having’ to kill them instead to prevent an assimilation that they should never have agreed to.

So taking this altogether, I begin to think that not saying what we actually mean . . . actually causes the situation to escalate. That seems to be true in my life. Does it seem so, in yours? You stand there and ask why, does this person keep doing this, when they know how much it ticks me off! But the fact is, you’ve never truly told them how/why it ticks you off!

But again, is the answer just to verbally vomit on them? That can’t be true. Because that is also not saying what you mean. Do I mean to degrade this person? To exaggerate their wrong? To compare them to animals and disregard every good thing we’ve ever shared? No.

The only answer that I can think of is to be . . . slow to speak. I know, how boring. But we have to stop, and ask, What is this person saying, and what do I actually believe about that. When offended, rather than saying, “Don’t worry about it.” Out of reflex, I have to stop and say, “Actually . . . that makes me feel like you just don’t care about what I think. What I’m hearing you say is that you just don’t care how much work it takes to build a retaining wall?”

And if I said that, what they might then say, if I spoke in love instead of verbal vomit, “Maybe, I didn’t really think about how much work it took. I was just thinking, how much more work you’ll have to do because that wall is too high. You won’t be able to finish the project in the time either of us agreed to.”

Of course, that’s if everyone can calm down. But you get my point. If instead, I just get mad, then the real issue will probably never be addressed. Which means for all that blustering and arguing, the foundation of the argument was never discovered. Thus, the argument will be built again.

I think this also applies to national debates. People on the radio talk about the bathroom gender thing. And the argument usually sounds something like this. “I understand there are people who can’t tell if they’re a boy or girl, but I’m concerned about straight-guys who are perverts. So it’s a safety thing, not to have boys showering with girls.” The gay marriage argument is pretty similar. “I don’t have a problem with whatever they do in private, but they shouldn’t be able to call it marriage legally.”

Those seem like stupid arguments to me. Actually bigoted, because they’re proposing punishing someone for something they say isn’t a problem, and usually because of some other hypothetical problem. A lot like the argument that people shouldn’t have guns because someone else might abuse them. But if we were talking, directly, then we could say, “No, I believe there’s a problem with the initial behavior. I believe it is the sign of someone in the process of self-destruction. When I hear about medical disorders, where someone doesn’t see their own arm as part of their body and wants to cut it off. I don’t hand him a saw; I say we get him some help. Not knowing what gender you are, or that you are made for the opposite gender, is a sign of serious, deep-rooted confusion. It does not need to be enabled or dressed up; it needs to be addressed and us try together to pull them back from it.”

Of course, that argument would fall on deaf ears, unless both parties have possession of the truth. I mean, we have a large portion of society who thinks that relations that have not produced one-single human life, are the same as relations that are responsible for 8 billion human lives. Which is why, I would rarely make it, but if it must come up (say for voting), then we need to be able to say what we actually mean instead of abandoning the actual bedrock truth in favor of an argument that is disingenuous.

But I digress. And I understand there is a place for simply not making an argument at all, personal or nationally. I think that’s probably most of the case in America and in our personal relations, because the other person is probably not answering from the same place of truth. But in our personal lives between those of close relations, people we actually know, I think maybe we just need some more directness.

Strike that. I do think we need more directness. Say what you mean (instead of some convenient cliché), and mean what you say (stand behind what you’ve said).

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