Not long ago …
I read an article I skimmed an article about “What Not to Say to Newlyweds.” Having attended two family weddings within the past ten months, I thought it might be useful. It wasn’t. The author advised against discussing any of the following topics:
- The Wedding (They might regret some details.)
- The Honeymoon (It might have been horrible.)
- New Job/Car/Apartment/House (They might hate it.)
- “Settling in” (It may not be going smoothly and they may be tired of talking about it.)
- Future Family Plans (a.k.a. kids and/or birth control — Stop pressuring already!)
- Sex (It might not be living up to the hype.)
- In-Law Relations (Just don’t go there.)
- Married Life (It could have been a very bumpy start.)
- Divorce (They might be considering it, so even jokes of this nature are unwelcome.)
While I agree with some of this (especially the last one), the article left me fully terrified to interact with any newlyweds at all. I mean, what else is there to talk about?
6942 (+ or -) Things You Should Never Say
You can find a “What NOT to Say” list for just about any situation. Go ahead; Google it. You’ll learn what not to say at a job interview, on a first date, during sex, on the phone, in a restaurant, in a house, with a mouse … (Okay, maybe those last two were about green eggs and ham.) You’ll learn what to never say to pregnant women, to new moms/adoptive moms/birth moms, to homosexuals, to police officers, to those suffering depression/anxiety/loss/abuse, to singles, to young children, to early readers, to slow learners … The lists go on!
I am not against these types of lists. In fact, I published one last year about talking to friends who face infertility. These lists are good and helpful when they provide insight into sensitive subjects, when they provide a conduit to understanding. They’re not helpful when they become dogmatic or inhibit conversation.
I understand the need for sensitivity and applaud the grace with which it is applied. At the same time, I see a need for more open dialog. We have 6942 (give or take a thousand and two) things we should never say and, as a result, we never fully comprehend. We just know what we’re not allowed to talk about. But healing and clarity come through talking. If we can’t share our questions and hurts and whys and hows, how will we ever learn? How will we ever grow together?
As I browsed through dozens of these “What NOT to Say” lists, a common theme became clear. People want to be heard. They don’t want to be told what to feel, say, think or do. They want to be understood. They want people to listen. They want to feel treasured and validated.
The cliche is right: it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. If you say it in the right way — proper context with a pure, loving, and respectful intent — you can say just about anything.
It may be taboo, but we still gotta talk about it.
One of my very dearest friends is black. I know, you’re never supposed to say “black” unless you’re black, in which case you can say whatever you want. Our kids actually call each other peaches and chocolate. Anyway, we all know dozens of taboo subjects between races. Bri and I have covered most — no, probably ALL of them. And you know what’s wild? We’re still friends!
I don’t discriminate with my taboo conversations. I hit them with all my close friends — Asian, Hispanic, European, African American, poor, rich, Jewish, Christian, pagan, atheist … it doesn’t matter what we talk about, but HOW we talk about it. We share deep respect and love for one another. In those circles, no topic is off-limits.
But you and I are not in those circles, are we?
How to Say
What You’re Not Supposed to Say,
but Really Think or Want to Ask
Online communication presents abundant opportunity, but brings with it many limitations. I don’t believe those limitations should be adequate excuse for ignorance via a lack of dialog.
Here are some suggestions for engaging in and promoting healthy dialog on tough topics, in spite of cyber complications.
- Seek to understand intent before judging content. Language is complex. Too many words carry varied connotations and meanings. (A friend and I once butted heads over the term “social justice” which meant a drastically different thing to her in her state than it did to me in mine.) Try not to jump on one word or concept; try to understand the whole of the message before you proclaim judgment on the piece or the author.
- Remember that everything written has a target audience … and you may not be it. The target audience may not always be clear, which is why I start with #1.
- Speak truth with love and respect. Always. Always, always, always. That is, if you have to speak at all.
- Choose your battles. You do not need to attend every argument to which you are invited. And certainly not those to which you weren’t invited.
- Avoid invasion. I wrote a piece a few years ago that mentioned a certain popular speaker. Strangers came from all directions to correct me on what they assumed was my interpretation of this person’s work. I had to take down the post for all the lack of civility and dignity present in those comments. It was appalling. What’s worse: these people sought out my blog simply to start a fight. I’m sure they thought it was a righteous fight, one that should be fought, but it came across as an invasion. They came to my territory to
cause damagepromote their agenda, and then disappeared, never to be heard from again … well, until I mention respect for Beth Mooreanother polarizing person or topic.
- Never fear showing too much grace or compassion. The world could always use more. Always, always, always.
Your Turn: Are these suggestions helpful? What would you add? What topics related to pursuing God would you like to discuss?
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