September 20, 2015 Gathering
Simply put, “speech-with-meaning” means that we are intentional about our words. That is, we mean what we say. We touched on it last week with Jesus’ desire that our “yeses” mean “yes,” and our “noes” mean “no.” It sounds simple, but we can easily fall into patterns of speaking where what we say gets obscured – speaking without meaning.
There are so many common phrases that say something different than what we really mean. When we use the phrases, “Really!?” or “Seriously!?,” do we really mean that the other person is so clearly wrong that we’re incredulous, and can’t see their side? If so, we have shut down the possibility for dialogue. Or do we really mean that we are upset, confused, or in disagreement with what we perceive is the other person’s side, but are saying something different than that?
When someone thanks us and we say something dismissive like, “no big deal,” do we really mean to devalue our efforts and their thanks? Or are we simply trying to be polite, but saying something other than what we really mean?
When we end a sentence with, “just sayin’,” what is the meaning of it? Is it to form a loophole in case the other person is upset by what we said – we can reply, “but I was just sayin’!” Is it because we don’t feel confident enough to claim what we’ve said as valuable? Why do we “just say” things instead of “saying” them with confidence?
And how often have we used canned responses like “I’m fine,” during an argument, or “I’m good, how are you,” in response to a greeting, when these have been anything but the truth?
“Speech-with-meaning” may seem like micromanaging our conversations, but in reality, it’s quite the opposite. When we are free to say just what we mean with another person, we are our authentic self with them, and are inviting them to be the same with us. On the other hand, the consequence of speaking without meaning can be very real broken trust. If I can’t trust that what you say is really what you mean, how will I know when to take you literally, and when not to? And if we’re not able to be totally authentic with what we say to each other, what is going on in the relationship that honesty is at risk? As Krasner & Joyce say in the quote from our gathering, “Trustworthy relationships are the outcome of the fact that when I speak I mean what I say, I do what I mean, and I can rely on you to do the same.”
In our gathering, we talked about the dangers of the word, “should.” As Albert Ellis once observed, “It’s a shouldy world, and we should all over ourselves.” The word “should” is one of our most common (and arguably most damaging) ways of speaking without meaning. “Should” asserts an opinion as fact, and blocks our capacity for dialogue. It focuses on and tries to change an imaginary future, instead of acknowledging the present reality. And, it distances the one using it from the need to own their opinion (i.e. – Rather than claiming that I want something/believe something/think or feel something, I create a false objectivity by saying it “should” or “shouldn’t” be that way.) In short, we usually say “should” when we really mean something much more personal.
One way to combat the “shoulds” of the world and of our own voices is to gain a greater awareness of what is really meant beneath the “should,” and say that, instead. We took any given sentence containing “should” and asked, “If that were changed into an ‘I’ statement and owned, what might it sound like instead?” When we get skilled at this, we find we’re able to translate the “shoulds” of our lives into personal claims, spoken with meaning, and able to be addressed in dialogue.