I remember the freeing feeling of cussing for the first time. The taboo, risque notion was enhanced by the sheer delight in saying a thing I was thinking and not censoring myself. It felt great. It took me a few too many years to learn that there is still a time and a place even for my strongest emotive expressions.
So believe me when I say I understand what it’s like to think something and to feel it’s almost a waste not to say it, either because it’s so accurate, or so funny, or so clever that the world will certainly be rewarded with the genius of your own thoughts. Why should I have to censor myself for someone else’s comfort? Why should anyone be forced to cage up their words inside their mind if they’re true and they’re fitting? Or…funny?
But this is where we must admit that in losing the art of conversation for the economy of conversation we’ve discovered the purity virtue of being blunt. I suppose it’s a specifically American quality to admire blunt, tactless conversation. “Cut through the bull”, I think is the most appropriate phrase. Spare my feelings and cut to the chase. We actually admire people who will “say what everyone else is thinking”. We think that’s brave.
To be a fair, there’s a time to cut to the chase and a time to stop beating around the bush. But for the most part, we could all stand to follow another old adage instead, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Oh but it’s so difficult, isn’t it? To know when you’re going to get in trouble for saying something. How could anyone possibly keep track of the right thing to say? And sometimes it’s out before you knew it was mean! I get it. Talking to people will always be a minefield. But there are some useful red flags to help you navigate verbal battlefields.
If one of the below phrases pops out of your mouth, don’t finish that sentence. What you want to say won’t contribute to the conversation at all. You may think it does, but you are wrong. It only adds to the opinion others have of you, and it’s not a flattering one. If what you’re saying is true, then it’s true. No need to wrap it in something else. If what you’re saying is true, but hurtful, saying you know that but you’re going to finish your thought anyway, is worse.
- Not to be rude – You’re going to be rude. Everyone sees that coming a mile away.
- No offense – Like “not to be rude” you know what you’re about to do. Don’t.
- I don’t mean to one-up you – Yes, you do. Of course you do. If you didn’t you wouldn’t say anything.
- Not to sound racist – It’s going to sound racist. Fact. Don’t say it.
- Not to sound like a misogynist — You already do, please stop.
- Just playing devil’s advocate — Consider, does anyone need you to do this? Is the devil really the one you should be advocating for? Rework your argument.
- I’m just saying – No you’re not, you’re going in for the kill. You’re ending the argument with a throwaway comment; you’re also being completely inane. You might as well have said “I’m talking here right now.” Yes. Yes, you are. Stop it.
If what you want to say is true and needs to be said, but you’re not sure how, guess what? You can take some time to think about it. Conversations are not a race. You can take your time to say what matters. And what’s more, people will appreciate your consideration and the fact that when you speak you’ve considered your words and their feelings.
Also be aware that if you can’t just own up to the fact that you’re a rude, offensive, racist, braggart who “wins” at conversations, don’t worry, everyone knows already.