what do we mean when we say what we say?


i say things without thinking all the time. not long ago, i was sleepless for several nights, angry with myself over a stupid and capricious remark i made in front of an audience of several hundred. this was not the first time this occurred. i don’t need a large audience, however, to make verbal blunders. i make them a lot. it’s part of being a relational risk taker to sometimes say the exact wrong thing. this means that i am well versed in the language of “i’m sorry.” in fact, it’s the first phrase i learn in a new language. i expect myself to make mistakes and i expect myself to own them.

recently i’ve been noticing an entirely new category of verbal mis-steps. i cringe when i hear these common sayings come out of my mouth and then wish, with an urgency that is hard to describe, that i could take them back now and every other time i have uttered them. they sound benign enough, sometimes even sensical. upon real consideration, however, they decry a propensity to interact with the world as though i am its center and display a kind of “me vs. them” thinking.

this hit me full force when i recently heard myself beginning to say “there but by the grace of God go i.” i got all the way to the word “grace” when i realized that to complete this phrase would be to infer that i must be the recipient of a certain grace that someone else has not been given since she was in a situation that i was not. i do not believe this to be true. i believe in one kind of grace when it comes to God and no one gets more or less of it. we all just get all of it. while i believe this to my core, i found myself lazily using words that express something else altogether.

i fear that i might do this more than i even realize. 

i have caught myself referring to someone as “strong” when i’ve really meant “powerful.” when i’ve done this i have passively inferred that the counter-part to this someone is “weak” when i really meant “over-powered” or “oppressed.” i have heard myself say “don’t worry about it” when i actually mean, “it was my pleasure to invest in you.” i have said “it’s no big deal” when it was one and “i’m fine” when i’m not. in reality, these are lies i tell you to keep your opinion of me in check. in ways large and small i have inferred that my interpretation is the only interpretation and i have made little space to find out that i am wrong. i have assumed that my opinion is your opinion and i have expressed this in ways that communicate a lack of care or concern in the opinion that is distinctly yours. 

i know how miscommunication feels from both sides. even still, i am only in control of what comes out of my own mouth. i am convinced that what i say matters and i want it to matter in all the best and right ways. because of this, i am convinced to be more attentive to the way i use my words. starting now i will do my best to mean what i say, even if i end up looking foolish trying to say it. even if i have to stop myself mid-idea and start over completely. when i am lazy or careless or thoughtless and mis-speak, i will say i’m sorry in every language i can muster because words are powerful and i’d like to use mine to heal and not to hurt.
Doreen Dodgen-Magee1 Comment