I’ve started this post 3 times and stopped because I was trying to moderate my tone and I didn’t want to come across as a cranky mess. But then I realized that I’m cranky today, and I’m trying to be true to my present, so here goes and bear with me.

One of the things that makes me less cranky. BTW, yes, all of the shots on this blog are mine.

Lately, both on social media and occasionally in person (well, on Zoom, but you understand what I mean) I’ve shared some of the challenges I’m facing and have heard “Oh, I know exactly how you feel!” and that is just my least favorite phrase, ever. And I dislike it intensely because it’s both presumptuous and untrue.

I’m a mid-career conductor whose gigs have been canceled through the summer and who doesn’t know when they’ll be able to work again. Unless this is also your situation, there is no way you know how I feel. Just as I don’t know how a mother of two trying to homeschool and work from home feels, or a CEO who just had to furlough 50% of their employees feels (and I know people in both of those positions), one cannot ever completely be in another’s shoes.

Knowledge of a person’s internal world is presumptive. Completely understanding someone else’s experience is impossible. I understand the sentiment behind this statement, and you could argue that I’m nit-picking over semantics, but I’m a person of words, words are important, and clarity of words is important.

I think there are kind and compassionate responses that are more helpful. For instance, if someone shares with you that they’re worried about their finances, or the health of aging parents, an effective response might be “I share that worry! How does it affect you? And how can we support each other in this shared worry?”

I try to be mindful of how I use my words, because clarity of communication is the best way to understand and help each other. When we toss out phrases that diminish the other person’s feelings or turns the focus towards ourselves, we’re doing no favors to the people who reach out to us.

What are some of the phrases that you hear on a regular basis that bother you?

My task: I’ve been in a bad mood all day, and being glued to the computer doesn’t help. This is the kind of day when it’s hard to motivate to go for a run, but it’s exactly when I need to go for a run (done!)

5 thoughts on “Humbug

  1. Wayne Zelenak says:

    While I will never understand exactly how you feel, I agree that words are the window to the soul and should be clear and concise. One of the problems I have with communicating with people can be summed up in a quote from Stephen R. Covey, who was an American educator, businessman, and keynote speaker. His most popular book is “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” His quote “Most People Don’t Listen With The Intent To Understand, They Listen With The Intent to Reply.” That quote resonates with me every day in conversations with people defining their limited perception of understanding.

    I get cranky when having a conversation with a person who tries to validate their importance through hyperbole. If I said I have a nickel, they have a dime and so on. I am repulsed by people who are inconsiderate of others and are totally immersed in their own world. Yesterday, the local news showed photos of discarded face masks left in store parking lots and parks in our area.

    When people say “I know exactly how you feel!” I interpret that to mean they really don’t care how you feel and they are preparing to tell you in detail how they feel. One of the things I love most about your blog is your ability to define and share in detail your most intimate feelings. Reading your words in writing gives me the opportunity to read them over several times to completely understand your sentiments. It’s like reading a book for the second time and feel things you missed on the first read.

    My best time to read is in the quiet of the early morning, devoid of noise, clutter, and distraction. For me, it’s a time for inspiration, reflection, and understanding.

    My question to you, have you ever explicitly described a walk in nature or watched a sunset slowly fade on the horizon?


  2. ‘What are some of the phrases that you hear on a regular basis that bother you?’
    When a 6 years old boys look at you and say: “Speak WHITE.” Then his father arrives and he’s as arrogant as his boy. He thinks he is the Master of the World. He is nothing for me.


  3. Wanted to pop on here and thank you for an alternate response for empathetic feelings. I really like your suggested wording… it fits me like a very expensive pair of Italian loafers. Thank you and I am sending you tighter hugs for your suckier days.


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