We don’t really pay attention to it, but speaking coherently to another person is hard. What we say and what they hear is a type of translation that can go wrong on so many levels. Why do you think misunderstandings are so common? I’m forever searching for the right words. Even in this blog, I am scared of saying the wrong thing, I mean yes I try not to have filters but sometimes I have to press backspace too, just because I know if I read something I wrote as another person I could think a million things which don’t at all sound appropriate in normal conversation.
The way I write has nothing to do with the way I speak. When I speak in an informal setting I swear a fair bit, leave sentences incomplete because I know the other person will get it. I use slang and rely mostly on sounds and hand actions to make a point. Right words don’t seem to exist. This becomes especially true in certain situations. When you can’t say something the right way, it can be quite humiliating and awkward. Despite knowing all of this we don’t make an allowance for not being able to say the right thing at the right time. We seem to think the other person should always have the words we want to hear at the ready. When they don’t catch on, we get terribly annoyed that they can’t understand something so simple.
Humans have all sorts of double-standards. Language was born out of the need to communicate but now there is a right way to communicate and a wrong way too. Communication is a serious and complicated matter. Another problem is that people are very easily offended, me too. Nobody is a mind reader, but I think the problem is we want to say a lot of things but we know everybody isn’t going to get all that we say. It’s very easy to accept praise and it’s just as hard to accept criticism. It’s how we were brought up.
My parents always told me to be polite, so did my teachers. Not that I mind being polite but are we to be polite all the time? It’s exhausting. Do you ever feel like some people don’t deserve your politeness? I am not a saint, so I’ll admit that I am not polite to everybody. Likewise, I am not expecting everybody to be polite to me because let’s face it, I am not everybody’s cup of tea. Our communication with people we like and people we dislike are very different because of our own biases.
In situations where somebody is sad, is the hardest context to say the right thing in. Whenever I’m faced with someone who’s sad I never say, “I know how you feel,” unless I really do know what they feel. Sometimes silence is better than trying to make it better, but how do you know? How do you find out what they need? A lot of my friends and well-wishers including my family have asked me a million times since depression entered my life, “What is the right thing to say?” Personally, I don’t think anything will make me feel better when I am sad. I’ve heard it all from, “Get yourself together!” to, “It’s not a big deal,” to “It’s ok,” to “Everything’s going to be fine,” to “Why are you like this all the time,” to “Just be happy,” to “Just stop thinking about it.” There are plenty more but you get the picture. Some people walk on eggshells like you’re a bomb waiting to explode, I don’t blame them but I am depressed not a rabid animal.
Nothing sounds right at the moment, and if you’re consoling someone who’s sad remember nothing you say is going to help them or make it any better. They will feel better eventually but it’ll take time. I can’t speak for everybody but I know when I am depressed or am having one of my episodes I like it when people just stay for a while and listen to me. I’m not looking for advice at that point, it will take me some time to say something but I eventually do talk and I just want the other person to listen. I don’t want to be told what to do, I don’t want judgement, I don’t want sympathy, I just want to be heard. Of course, there’s no one size fits all.
Different people need different things. I have not been too helpful when somebody I know was sad, I don’t even know if they want me around them or not. But something that always works for me when someone is down in the dumps and if I happen to be around is to react rather than act. Your first impulse might be to act and perform damage control. But the minute you react after understanding their actions it might help you find a better solution to the problem. If you’re lucky they might even tell you how you can make them feel better.
I don’t think right words exist and so there is no point constantly being in pursuit of them. Sometimes instinct leads you to say the right thing, sometimes everything you say will be wrong. The best way to know what to say is to know what not to say.