This I Believe

Thomas - Trumbull, Connecticut
Entered on March 12, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe that how you say something can be as important as what you have to say.

I am a parent, teacher and coach. Once in a while those in my charge mess up “big time” and succeed in making me angry, hurt, embarrassed or frustrated. And somewhere along the way I was “taught” that yelling was the best way to get their attention and communicate the seriousness of the situation. Somehow the message I was trying to send often wasn’t the one being received.

Yelling is not always bad. For instance, yelling at someone crossing a street who does not see an approaching car can save a life. However, yelling at someone I hope to influence, educate or reform is usually counter productive because what I’m doing speaks so loudly that they can’t – or won’t – hear what I’m saying. And sometimes when I think I am yelling at someone “for their own good” it is, at least in part, a selfish act I do to let off steam, even the score, demonstrate my moral/ethical superiority or to remind them who’s the boss. Not surprisingly they show little remorse, gratitude or appreciation for having been “helped”.

These days I’m trying to follow Kipling’s advice to “fill the unforgiving moment with sixty seconds worth of distance run” by instituting a temporary restraining order and then waiting until the next day before addressing the situation directly. By then I have calmed down and stand a better chance of saying what I truly want to say. Additionally, I’ve learned that the person I am dealing with sometimes uses that time to reflect on what they’ve done. As a result they are sometimes less defensive and more open to hearing what I hope to communicate and to be influenced in a more positive and meaningful way.

Still, as Seneca said, “I persist on praising not the life I lead, but that which I ought to lead, following at a mighty distance, crawling.” Therefore when I occasionally fail to heed my own advice I know that I will need to come back and apologize; to make sure they understand that I dislike what they did – not who they are. Though I can never take it back I can hope to close the open wound so we can resume the relationship. Though scars may not ever go away completely they can become painless reminders that help both of us make better choices down the road. For the yeller has also been scarred and has much to learn from the experience if open to it.

So the next time someone “gets my Irish up” and I feel the impulse to yell I hope the message that my brain receives loud and clear is this: don’t. For if I want to send a message that is both loving and thoughtful then I can’t use a technique born of anger and impulse. No one cares what you know until they know that you care. This I believe.