I’m actually making a resolution this year

While I don’t usually come up with New Years’ resolutions, I decided to follow one this year based on posts made by two people I admire for their tact and awareness in social contexts.

Earlier this year, one of these friends made a post about being careful about what you say on social media, especially when considering people that you know on a personal level. The gist of that writing is that it isn’t fair to say something negative about a person over social media, and then expect them to be entirely civil with you when you next see them.

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Relatively recently, the other friend shared a post about whether something is worth saying. Using an expansion of the word “think” as an acronym, the questions one should ask would be if a statement is: true, helpful, inspiring, negative, and kind. Based on these answers, you should decide whether something is worth saying.

Correlating these two posts took me quite a while; I stumbled over the correlation just yesterday, actually. I also included ideas from my own posts regarding retrospect made just a few days ago. It’s obvious for someone to apply the concept to statements you’ve made in the past, and I did so. While I did discover that there were plenty of things that I likely could have gone without saying, I also realized that this view is somewhat self-critical. When considering these concepts of whether something is true, helpful, inspiring, negative, or kind, are we meant to think only of others? Might there be situations, albeit few, where a person would have said something if they apply these concepts inwardly, as well?

I’m sure all people, including myself, say plenty of things that we wish we could take back. Personally, there were far more comments that I wouldn’t repeat if given the opportunity that there were statements that went unsaid in error. There are a couple of concepts that can easily be overlooked: balance and self-advocacy.

To explain, I’ll go through each question one at a time:

True: Whether or not something is true is usually indisputable in social contexts. Either it happened or didn’t; either the situation exists or it doesn’t. One important takeaway here is that in social settings, people often cause confrontations by gambling on the truth. If you are unsure on whether something is true or not, then you should present it as such. Many great disputes are caused, at their root, by comparatively small misunderstandings they could have surely been cleared up by a proper presentation of facts early on.

Helpful: Whether or not something is helpful is much more complicated when including concepts of balance and self-advocacy, but it’s also the most illustrative. Remember that these ideas apply to situations, not just people, so you’re really asking if the comment is helpful to the case at hand, not one party or the other. When taking self-advocacy into account, there are many things a person can say that will help themselves. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t just help you feel better, like in a vindictive way, it helps better the situation. We often find ourselves speaking to people who we believe never listen. In this case, can anything helpful be said? The answer is yes. Stating that people “never listen” is hyperbole, after all; people like this just disregard most of what they hear. While this affects the context of your conversation and should affect your wording, it doesn’t mean that all statements made to such people are unhelpful. Depending on the influence that these people have over you, and taking into account self-advocacy, it may mean that you will have to try harder with these people than any other. This is a far cry from saying nothing. While your statement may seem to fall on deaf ears, it’s very possible that it is worth speaking and can make a difference. Remember that people often don’t actually want to hear the very advice that will help them, and can be hostile towards statements instrumental in resolving their own problems. When these people look in retrospect, your comments may be part of something that changes their way of thinking later on. In this way, helping yourself and helping others is one and the same.
Whether or not something is helpful is a great segue into whether or not something is inspiring. “Inspiring” often has a very up-in-the-clouds, idealistic connotation, but whether or not something is inspiring is very concrete in many ways. Will your statement affect change? Will your statement inspire people to do things differently? Is this different way of doing things better than the way people are doing things now? In this sense, ‘helpful” and “inspiring” are very similar concepts; with the concept of inspiring, to me, merely being broader. Things that are both helpful and inspiring can change the way people operate outside of the situation at hand.

Negative: Now we move on to this question: Is the statement negative? Yes, there is somewhat of a sigh here in my writing, because I think that people too often believe that avoiding negativity will create a more positive life for themselves. I’m speaking more broadly here. While avoiding negativity sounds helpful on the surface, it’s important to think about whether a person can be helpful while entirely avoiding negativity. In my opinion, the answer is an unequivocal “no.” There are many negative aspects of our world, and one cannot correct or alleviate these harmful elements by completely ignoring them. Negativity is a concept that must be addressed, not ignored. As I stated before, many helpful statements will elicit a negative response. When you evaluate your statement as to whether it is negative, keep the concept of balance in mind. A statement is not negative just because it is met with negativity; context and audience are essential concepts for this evaluation.

Kind: The last of the five criteria: Is the statement kind? This is definitely the “softest” of the five. Similarly to the word “inspiring,” the word “kind” has many different connotations. If your statement is struck down as being unkind, it’s likely a petty, unhelpful statement used simply as an insult to hurt your opponent. For the purposes of this writing, I’ll move past that. I’m definitely not above this behavior, but I can usually recognize this behavior in myself readily. Shifting to more complex statements, the consideration of context and audience is vital when evaluating your argument in this way. How much do you know about your audience? What does your audience consider kind? Will your statement be met with opposition? Can you alter your wording to make your comment more understandable, and thus more helpful to your audience? It’s important not to think of this as politeness or sugar-coating, though it is somewhat similar. When you’re making a statement, if you do genuinely want it to be helpful, then you do want your audience to make an effort to understand it. You want to give them the best chance of understanding your viewpoint. Extraneous inflammatory language, anger, and petty insults will not get you that result. This kind of behavior undermines your purpose and the purpose of your statement.

With all that being said…

In the coming year I plan to evaluate what I say more carefully. This doesn’t mean that I’ll be staying less or more, necessarily. It simply means that I’ll be choosing my statements and venues with more care.

Thanks for reading and, speaking statistically of New Years’ resolutions, go enjoy your new gym membership. Additional thanks go out to my helpful friends, Ashley and Sarah, whose inspiring truths, shared in a kind way, paved the way for me to write this piece that I hope will reduce negativity in the coming year.

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