More Phrases I’m Choosing Not to Say

Awhile back, I posted about this very topic and offered 5 phrases I’m actively eliminating from my dialogue with others. It was pretty well received, which makes me hopeful that the people I know and love desire a more peaceful and kind world, just like me. So I’ve been keeping track of some more phrases that have come up for me recently, and what my learning and reflection look like with these additional phrases.

“At least…”

Here’s my truth: There’s nothing like sharing something vulnerable and receiving little to no empathy from the person listening. When we were planning to move, we encountered a lot of stress from the few weeks our house was on the market. I’ll be the first person to tell you how grateful I am for my home. I have experienced so much healing here- it’s a place of refuge for me every single day. So when I get told “At least you have a house” it sort of diminishes my processing. If I am reflecting through something that happened at work, I don’t want to hear “At least you have a job.” I do think there is a time and a place to remember the many blessings we have been given, but when someone offers a piece of their heart or their pain to you, as Brene Brown says, empathy rarely starts with “at least.”

What I’d say instead: Wow. That sounds tough. I’m so grateful you are in a ______ (house/job/etc) you care about.  I’m sorry you’re experiencing this tension right now.

“Kids are resilient.”

I hear this one a lot as a teacher and a parent. And often, times are very tough. Kids often persevere through many of the same things adults do. Here’s my truth: Yes, kids can bounce back from a lot. But, many don’t! Kids who have caring adults in their lives who help them process their experiences are the ones who learn resilience.

What I’d say instead: Hearing you process is reminding me of how important it is to be a caring adult for young people. I want to model what resilience looks like for them.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink it.”

I will be the first to admit, I have said this phrase, usually in frustration with colleagues when we cannot seem to figure out how to get students to complete their work. But, my beliefs have really changed on this one. When I really break this phrase down, here are some reflections:

  • Kids are humans, not horses.
  • How did I lead them to the water? Gently? Harshly? As a trick? With joy?
  • Did I show them how to drink the water? Or, are we just standing next to it, and I am assuming they should know what to do? Are they even thirsty right now?
  • Have I tasted the water? Does it even taste good?
  • Are they telling me why they don’t want to drink it? Are they allergic to it? Is it poisoned? Do they know about a nearby stream with cleaner water?
  • Am I listening? Am I willing to look for a better source of nourishment with them?

Here’s what I’d say instead: I have been operating out of a belief that I know what’s best for _______, but they aren’t really responding. How can I learn some of the reasons underneath why they aren’t showing much interest?

“Time heals all wounds.”

Even though I desperately wish this was true, it really isn’t. I’ve had some really deep wounds for more than two decades, and while I manage okay on a day to day basis, they still ache, need nurturing, and love.

What I’d say instead: How are you comforting yourself? How are you taking care of your hurts? How can I help you heal?

“I wish you could tell me in a nicer way…”

Yikes, am I guilty of this. I used to train high school students to practice their tone with adults so they would be heard when they had something to say. I taught them how to send carefully crafted emails to teachers they had disagreements with or string together a sentence to say to a friend they were texting. The reality is, pain is pain. And sometimes it comes out raw. It has taken me a lot of inner turmoil to realize that when someone talks to me from their pain, grief, trauma, or rage, I need to acknowledge what they are saying and not just how they are saying it. What does it look like to yes, by all means, meet people where they are at when we have a truth to share? And also to exhibit unlimited compassion when someone speaks to us, even if it is in a manner that isn’t our first choice?

What I’d say instead: Thank you for sharing this perspective with me. I’ll think about it and get back to you, or, I’m really grateful you felt you could share this with me. It’s surprising me, but I’m glad you felt you could speak from your heart.

What phrases are you replacing with more thoughtful responses?

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