Radical Simplicity and a Beautiful, Messy Life

The One Thing Not To Say When You Don't Know What to Say

What not to say lists are all the rage.  All over the internet people are sharing lists of things they are sick of hearing.  Posts about what not to say to a person with mental illness or what not to say to someone who is grieving or what not to say to people experiencing infertility, the list goes on.

And I get it.  I even kinda wrote one myself at my old blog.  And every once in a blue moon I consider writing one about mental illness.  Because if one more person tells me that "we all get sad sometimes" I'm going to lose my ever-loving mind.

But I wonder how healthy these lists are.  Are they helping us grow closer to one another with awareness and compassion, or are they dividing us and making us afraid to communicate at all for fear of saying the wrong thing?

Because isn't that the goal?  More compassion?  More encouragement?  More understanding and authentic community?  Can we get there if we are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that we recoil from one another? 

I've boiled it down to what I believe is the one most important what-not-to-say to someone who's experiencing something difficult or different from you.

Here it is, the one thing not to say:  Nothing.   

Whatever you do, don't say nothing.

Don't avoid eye contact. Don't pretend you don't see them.  Don't bite your tongue just because you might say the wrong thing. 

Say something kind.

Say something true.

Stutter and shake in the awkwardness of it.

Tell them you wish you knew what to say.  Ask them what it is that they need to hear. Name their pain, or address the reality of the difficult situation.  

It might be the wrong thing. 

It will definitely sometimes be the wrong thing. 

But it's better than saying nothing. 

I've watched some friends go through truly tragic losses.  And each of them has said the same thing: they'd hands down rather somebody say the wrong thing than say nothing at all.  That the greatest pain is not the friends who misspeak, but the ones who look away to avoid the awkwardness altogether.

Real relationships are raw and risky.  And sometimes the uncertainty of what to say can be crippling.  But friends, it is totally worth the risk.  Because on the other side of that uncertainty and fear are deep, abiding connections that every single one of us long for, no matter our circumstances.

Whatever you do, don't say nothing.

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