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.
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!)