There are things in life we need to be good at. Obviously. There are skills and habits and expressions that benefit us, that make us better people – stronger, resilient, graceful. I find that, for me, I am pretty good at doing. I’m efficient and proficient at doing what needs to be done for my house, my family, my self. I clean, I cook, I exercise, I pray, I help, I love, I tend, I even serve. But words? Well, those are harder for me. Not the doing, but the saying, the expressing what I feel, what I mean, what I need. That’s tough for me. But, there are some expressions that, as humans, we need to be very comfortable with. We need to sit with them, become friends with them, and be confident, genuine and frequent in using words wisely.
This post begins a three part series on Using Words Wisely. It is divided into accessible and memorable groups: Uniting, Protecting and Fortifying. These classifications are designed to remind us that the expressions have a purpose, and though their meaning is complicated, it’s imperative they become familiar to our hearts and our friends.
So we begin.
Wait. Before we dive into them, and we all start practicing (ideally) these critical words, I need to say something that probably could go without saying, but well. I want it in black and white, no uncertain terms:
All of these sayings-Uniting, Protecting and Fortifying- must be said genuinely. They must come from a direct, authentic, sincere space. They cannot be sarcastic, they cannot be passive aggressive, they cannot be manipulated, transactional or conditional. Which means, you cannot say them TO PROVOKE another person to reply. You cannot say them with the intention that another respond in kind. They are said from you to another person, with care, compassion and selfless honesty. Only.
The first group we’ll talk about are the Uniting Words. Uniting expressions are those that reach out to others, that hold their hands and look them in the eyes. They are the ones that remind us of the Prayer of St. Francis, that we should seek others’ perspectives, feelings and spirits before we settle doggedly in our own. Be generous with these, for they are the only ones that make you AND another human feel appreciated, honored and seen.
“I love you.”
“I am sorry.”
“Help me understand.”
These are disarming, kind and, well, uniting. Do you see how, though, when we say them conditionally, “I love you, too, but. . .” or “I am SORRY, is that what you want to hear?” or “Thank you. Fine, I said it,” these expressions become their worst enemies and actually the opposite of their intended meaning? And I’ve found, in my life’s conversations and relationships, when someone reaches out (uniting) and says, “you seemed upset last night, and I know I was. . .help me understand your perspective on what happened,” wow. That’s so humane and generous and good. And the whole conversation starts well and with respect.
These should be said as often as possible, to anyone who deserves to hear them. People who help you – say “thank you,” and look them in the eyes. Those people who go unnoticed, unappreciated – stop walking for a minute and look at them. See them. And thank them. Thank you husband for unloading the dishes, thank your kids, thank your friends.
Some say to use “I love you” sparingly. I am not in that camp. At all. With our very limited English language, the word “love” is used for everything, anyway. To our pets, about food, weather, holidays, fabric patterns. So I’m assuming it is applied to humans with just as much diversity and dexterity. With as many humans that we know, it’s fair to believe that “love” is applied as creatively and honestly as the very people we love. I love you. I do. I see you, I appreciate you, I care for you, as a person with God-given dignity. So say it.
And I’m sorry. For the love of all that is holy, start using it. And not so you can become a well-worn doormat. And not so you can start assuming responsibility for everything and everyone (we’ll get to that in our next topic Protecting). But so you can start empathizing. You can soften, understand and honor someone else’s perspective. This is a big virtuous, one, isn’t it? It takes humility and patience to look at someone and either a) because you hurt them and you are owning that or b) because they are sad or disappointed and it’s unrelated to you but you can appreciate and honor their pain, you become like Simon and share their burden. When said genuinely, it is a very uniting, bonding experience.
I like feeling closer to people, not farther away. I like understanding them, and of course, feeling like I’m worthy of being understood. I like feeling loved and valued, so I assume others do too.
You? You get what I’m saying? Does this make sense? Let’s not be shy with these expressions, let’s try to be less stoic and more vulnerable, less pretentious and more broken. Less “well, she made me feel,” “he didn’t say say,” “I’ll say it when she does” kind of people and more those who say “I’m so glad to know you, and I love you” kind of people.