Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For June 20 weekender, 2015
David W. Hegg
We're all aware of the iconic Nike slogan "just do it." I'd like to nominate another slogan for all people everywhere who have made a hobby out of critiquing others, and then bottling up their disappointment and frustration: Just say it!
One of the things I prize most is direct, honest communication. But increasingly in our day concerns are not being voiced either at a time or in a way that can be beneficial. It seems as much as people love to critique, they also love to store up their concerns. They layer them on one another until the molehill becomes a mountain that just can't be climbed any more. Then they explode, and out of nowhere slings and arrows hit you with shocking proportion.
There has to be a better way. I'm suggesting we get back to the simple principle of "just say it." If you see something that is amiss, or you sense that it might be, just say it. Of course, if it is really inconsequential, and can just be dismissed, that’s always the best first option. But even then, make sure it doesn't come back later as a grievance. If you can flush it, do so; if you can't then do something about it. Just say it, directly, honestly, winsomely, and in a timely fashion, but by all means, say it!
Perhaps it is cowardice that keeps us from acting in the most honorable way when it comes to speaking honestly and directly to someone about things that are out of sync. I certainly have felt the pull of rationalization when I knew that I should speak directly to someone about a problem. I have succumbed to the temptation to avoid conflict at all cost. But I have seldom if ever found that such behavior solves the problem. Instead, it usually creates in me a ledger where I continue to pile up negatives against that person. It is almost as though I am punishing them for my own unwillingness to deal with the problem when it first arose.
And that's the real point here. If we don't deal with things when they are small, we often watch them pile up until we feel they are almost impossible to deal with. This creates another whole level of frustration. We convince ourselves that the problem has reached such tragic proportions that simple answers no longer exist. Here’s where the biggest crime occurs: we move from frustration about the problem to an almost organic hatred of the person. We take the perceived problem, fertilize it with our frustration, and end up with a whole different kind of plant. We now think the problem is moral, embedded in the very character of the one whose actions we detest. Now the only solution seems to be to get rid of the person. And it all may have been avoided if, at the very beginning, we had summoned up the courage to "just say it."
So, here's my plea: If you see something in me, or in someone else in your life that you feel isn't best for them, you should have only two options. If it is small, and without consequence, and you are able to fully dismiss it from your mental ledger, than do it. But if it is significant, deal with it when it is still in its infancy.
I'd suggest these three words as your introduction when you enter into that direct conversation: "Help me understand ..." And then listen. And in the end, just say it. Say it without generalizations, or pejorative language; say it without shouting, or name-calling; say it without a condemning tone, but just say it. Don't represent others who aren't present, and don't take up offenses for others, but just say what you believe to be true and needs to be said.
Bottom line: Don't become a storehouse of evidence against the people in your life. If you do, you'll find that negative evidence is corrosive. Like an acid, eventually it will eat its way through its container, and spill over into the rest of your life. And once you become known as a person whose outlook is mostly negative, you'll start finding yourself alone most of the time. And come to think of it, maybe that's best for those who decide to bottle up their frustrations rather than dealing with them in a way that is beneficial to all. Maybe if they are always alone they will be less able to inflict damage on the rest of us.