There’s that old phrase “say what you mean and mean what you say”. All too often I think we maybe don’t do that when it comes to making an apology, saying hello and even thanking someone. I was reading a post over at Doctor Mike’s Blog (go check it out, it’s excellent) about how far a simple “thank you” can go, and I think that the same can be said about other verbal devices that we might otherwise take for granted.
(I guess it’s the same for “I love you”, but I’ve covered that already here.)
Back when I was working in Europe, I learnt to say lots of useful and not so useful things in foreign languages. I could get tables in restaurants, welcome people to meetings and engage in a little bit of idle chit chat. I also learnt how to say that my duck is dead, that someone has a nice arse and to ask for sexual favours cause my Dutch teachers thought that was more amusing than really telling me how to ask for the bill at the end of a meal.
One thing we were told not to say when greeting someone was “how are you?” or “are you OK?”. These are my stock greetings, so this was hard for me just to say “hello” or “good morning”.
The reason we were told not to say this was because, apparently, ask a Dutch person how they are and they will tell you everything about their life – their health, the children’s education, how they’re doing with their mortgage… The reply will be comprehensive and probably more than was being bargained for from a frivolous greeting.
I ask people how they are when I see them probably more now out of habit than anything else. In most cases I don’t even expect a reply, just a nod of the head or a passing “fine. You?”. This will then be followed thus:
“Good, yeah, fine thanks.”
…and then walking off in opposite directions.
It’s the same thing with saying thank you. I’ve probably lost track of the number of times a day I say thank you to someone, but I’m pretty sure I could count on one hand the number of times I say it with more feeling than just saying it out of habit. I received a message once which I screenprinted and saved because it felt like one of the most genuine thanks I’d even been given. It carried a weight and a gravitas and a sincerity, and it meant so much to me.
I think it’s also the same thing with apologies. How many times do we actually mean an apology, and how many times should we give one but don’t?
There is one apology on this blog written because of a reaction I got to a post. On one level, it was a post about a man buying a car he didn’t want. On the second level, it was me writing about something I hate (Volkswagen Passats) in the manner of something I like (relationships), in the (assumed) style of Fifty Shades of Grey. On the third level, it was about a guy losing his virginity to a prostitute, and she didn’t want to be his first and he later regretted it too.
The person who got angry saw me advocating rape. Apparently it was the most disgusting thing she’d ever read and levelled a similar accusation of being disgusting at me. I took the post down because I agreed that it was fairly moot even though the rape angle was not something that had crossed my mind, and I apologised if it caused offence to those people who read it and didn’t say they thought it was a good post in my comments section.
What hurt me, though, was that whereas I gave an apology for something I didn’t mean, I never received one for being told how vile I was even when I explained that it was never my intention to glorify one of the most heinous of crimes. I never got an apology for my friend believing I was capable of doing that. I just got a justification for her actions, and this wasn’t the only time.
There’s a post coming at the beginning of next week maybe, where I allude to another time where I was called “a bad friend and a bad son”. Again, there was no apology later on when the perpetrator
realised was told and agreed that they were being massively unreasonable. There was only a justification for the nasty words.
In those two stories, the words were left to hurt because of an inability to say sorry despite trying to back away from and disown the action.
A lot of what we say can be so, so simple, or at least physically simple to say or write. Yet, we can say these simple things with no real thought or weight or meaning because they become habit or just par for the course. Maybe have a think about it, and the next time you give someone a passing greeting, thank you or apology, give a thought to how much you actually mean it.
Take all of your wasted honor,
Every little past frustration.
Take all of your so-called problems,
Better put ’em in quotations.
Say what you need to say.
Walking like a one man army
Fighting with the shadows in your head.
Living out the same old moment
Knowing you’d be better off instead,
If you could only
Say what you need to say.
Have no fear for giving in.
Have no fear for giving over.
You’d better know that in the end
Its better to say too much
Then never say what you need to say again.
Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken,
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open –
Say what you need to say.
Say by John Mayer