I Didn’t Mean That!   6 comments

A week ago I was sitting at the library reference desk and one of my student workers was talking to a couple of friends.  We allow this for a couple of minutes, but they kept jabbering.  When there was a pause in the conversation I said, “If you want to keep having this discussion, why don’t you take it elsewhere.”  The visiting students were clearly embarrassed and immediately apologized and headed out the door.  The student worker continued with her shift, but at the end of her hour she got up and left in complete silence.  I’m not deaf to social cues and guessed she was upset with me.  Sadly, I can come across as more harsh than I feel… something in the tone of my voice, the look in my eyes, the cock of my brows.

I know this because Kimberly regularly yanks my chain about what I have said or done with others that seems completely tame to me–I was not barking, I was not even growling.  Apparently my perception of “normal” is skewed towards blunt and angry.  I take umbrage easily.  I lack grace.  And even when I manage to have a gracious mindset, my frown lines still crease–my mom was right: making ugly faces does stick.  I have improved a great deal, but Kimberly keeps wincing, so I’ve clearly got a ways to go.

Every plain statement comes with assumptions, context, implications, connotation… in short, the unspoken part of our message is often more powerful and important than the spoken part.  This is true not only because we can give it more weight, even unintentionally, but because the unspoken has unusual advantages, being unseen it easily slips past all our defenses.

  • It’s often felt, but not identified consciously, so the person falls under its influence without a chance to examine and question it.
  • It’s hard to call out because it can easily be refuted with “that’s not what I said” or “that’s not what I meant.”
  • The person reacting has no “proof” so he doubts himself and may not even understand why he is reacting as he is, even blaming himself for feeling blamed, a double whammy.

When dad says, “That was a great science project.  Next year you’ll probably get first place,”  his words are floating in a relational stew.  The boy knows his father, knows what he thinks about science versus sports, knows how he weighs second place versus first, knows how he values his son’s achievements compared to his job or favorite sitcom or other kid’s accomplishments.  The father’s sentiments override everything else, and his actual words are powerless in such a competition.  We are all born intuitively perceptive, remarkably so, even if we cannot put it into words or rational explanations.

No amount of care in choosing my words or facial expressions is going to change the experience others have of me, except in the most superficial interactions.  My only hope is to grow more into a gracious heart, for the heart always comes leaking out between and around all my words, my polite behavior, my planned smiles.  The truth has an inevitability, even when I try to suppress it, even when I’m blind to it in myself.  Sometimes people know me better than I know myself.  So I listen to them, even when it sounds like poppycock 😉 .


Posted April 3, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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6 responses to “I Didn’t Mean That!

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  1. Its good to share something like this. Sometime our normal behavior doesn’t look fine to others they call you rude for beinf blunt and strict. People says’ students always miss strict teacher later in life becoz if someone really care about you he has to blunt sometime which become behavior with the time but that doesn’t means that person want to hurt you by using bad words

    • I agree–sometimes being strict is necessary, and sometimes it comes from truly caring about someone. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the reason why I am strict! It’s usually from caring about myself!

  2. you got to the real issue at the end! i’m totally there with you– somehow the “but that’s not what i meant” response is so lame (i’ve tried to completely stop using it) — THEIR (read: wife, co-worker, friend, etc.) perception of the situation/my-intention is their reality… and it doesn’t really matter if i want to say, “but no — that’s not the real reality!” … then it just becomes all about me. so, thanks for sharing, and thanks for the thoughts/insights… and thanks for the vulnerability!

    • Kieth, thanks for reading and appreciating and commenting. I think you raise an additional issue, that the other person’s reality is really important and valid even if it does not actually reflect “real reality”. In other words, even if I am completely gracious, they may take offense based entirely on their own issues, and it is important for me to hear and respond to their reality. I agree with you on that, and I like your decision to just stop using the “that’s not what I meant” response–explanation and clarification is legitimate, but such a response is so tied in to self-justification and other-blame, that we probably should lay it aside (though to be honest, I don’t know if I’m there yet). I think the real reality is still a valid investigation, however, because I don’t want to bypass the question of what is truly in my heart by simply accommodating the other person’s reality (and ultimately, I wish for those close to me to have that same desire to discover real reality for themselves). What do you think?

  3. This is exactly the realization I came to at some point. But you have said it so perfectly, so concisely, and so beautifully.

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