Think Before You Speak


Recently I’ve been mulling over the way people react to things, why they might say what they say, and how much allowance to extend to people in that vein.

For instance, I was thinking about the person who said, vis à vis my depressive episode last fall, “That’s a disability?!” I don’t understand quite what would make someone say that to the actual depressed individual — and I must confess to not really wanting to ask this particular person.

Likewise, recently I was exploring a new job opportunity, and was told by a well-meaning person, “It’s nearly impossible to get those jobs unless you know someone.” Another person, about the same job opportunity, said to me immediately, “But if you get it, you will be the first to be laid off.”

And finally, although I am planning to do some schooling at the local university extension in order to make a  large career change in a few years, I am loath to share this information with certain people, for fear of hearing “Oh, I don’t see you in that job,” or “I don’t think there’s much future in that,” or “Do you think you will be able to get a job?”

My answers to all these people and the hypothetical nay-sayers are as follows:

  1. Yes, it’s a disability (see post below).
  2. I guess you actually said that to make me feel better if I didn’t get it, so I am going to run with that.
  3. Thank you, Captain Obvious Pessimist.
  4. I do. (Or I wouldn’t waste my time and money.)
  5. See #5
  6. See #5

I confess that I am sometimes easily discouraged, and as a person with depression it helps to have something to look forward to, something to dream about. There will be time enough to feel bad if I’m not offered the job, time enough to worry if I am laid off, and certainly time enough through a two-year program to decide whether I am on the right path and whether it’s feasible. Why on earth do people feel the need to burst one’s bubble at the very start?

Sometimes, I am sure they’re looking out for a person. “Don’t feel bad if this doesn’t work out; XYZ is against you.” After my initial irritation/dejection at these sorts of comments, I take them in this spirit. I do wish folks in this category would wait until the bad thing happens, though!

As far as the Eternal Pessimist, believe me, I can be pessimistic enough on my own. Also, I am not stupid. I understand things like layoffs and seniority; I’ve been working for 20 years, 11 of them in a union environment where Seniority Is All. The person speaking to me knows this. In general, most people would have some clue about the relative pessimism, realism, and subject-specific-savvy of the person they’re talking to. Perhaps you can rein yours in if you’re not talking to a complete airhead about to walk off a dangerous cliff?

And, in terms of everyone except the first in this list: That’s what it comes down to, really. The cliff. Is your friend about to plummet off one, about to make some horribly obvious and abysmal mistake that cannot be rectified, and that your words can actually help avoid? If not, think for a bit before you respond. Maybe your friend needs to have something to look forward to, some goal, something to help get her through a bad day. And perhaps it won’t work out, but it would be gentler, as well as a learning experience, if he or she figures that out on their own. That path might not lead to the destination they had in mind, but there might be a side path they get led down, which they would never see if you stood in their way at the trailhead and said, “No, not for you, what are you thinking?”

Clearly there are instances where a person is about to walk into danger, or do something else incredibly stupid. There are times for intervention. But when someone who is reasonably intelligent, reasonably sane, reasonably reasonable, decides to do something that is not illegal or spectacularly ill-advised, do them the favor of weighing your words before you share.

And don’t tell someone who is suffering from a condition that you don’t think the condition is real.  That’s a good way to lose a friend.