Learning to Say What I Mean
After wrangling the kids and a cart full of oversized packages at the wholesale store, I made it through checkout and rewarded myself with a giant Diet Coke (don’t judge). Then, through the gauntlet of “special offers” and their representatives. We were ready to get out of the behemoth store. The kids were eagerly anticipating ripping into their chosen snack food. I almost made it out the door before a friendly salesman stopped me with a smile and an extended hand.
He was good. He steered clear of any yes or no questions, with jovial conversation about home renovations. He had a nice smile, and kept eye contact.
Little did he know (or maybe he knew all too well) that I was barely keeping it together. But like a tie fighter caught by a tractor beam, I couldn’t move. I was afraid to be rude.
I found myself saying, “Why, yes, we might need new windows” and “We’d love you to come by for a free estimate. Thanks for asking!” What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just decline and keep walking?
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
My mother repeated this old rhyme to me often when I was young, but I never believed it. Try being teased for having red hair and freckles. I was known as “Strawberry Shortcake” throughout the second grade.
In high school, I wanted to crawl under my desk and die after discovering the other kids called me “Snoopy” behind my back. You see, I was painfully shy and quiet, extremely pale, and had long dark brown hair. So, basically Snoopy without the fun dance moves.
These are just a couple of examples of words stinging. They seem insignificant, but their impact was much stronger than a scrape or bruise. Now in my 40s, I can still recall feeling small, different, and inadequate.
Words can and do hurt us. I learned this lesson often in my formative years and internalized it, even in my way of speaking. I was afraid to hurt others with my words.
I learned a way of speaking, modeled by generations of Southern Christian ladies, that called for linguistic gymnastics rather than appearing rude or too bold. A lady should be supportive, not challenging. Don’t be “ugly.” Smile and be sweet. Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
No more. The time has come to be direct. I may even hurt some feelings or, hold your pearls, be rude.
Now my vocabulary is changing. No more starting sentences with “Do you mind…”, “Do you want to…”, “Do you think you might want to try…” and phrasing everything in the form of a question.
Today, I called the company today and cancelled that free estimate. The guy seemed ticked off, but so be it. On to my next conquest. My mantra has become “Say what you mean.” I catch myself in those inauthentic moments when my insides and outsides don’t match. I stop, and give voice to the truth, and simply say “No.”
"The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not explain herself." - Glennon Doyle