Where words and reality are two different things – here are 6 reasons we don’t say what we mean.
I dunno about you, but a word that has been really publicised lately has been the word regret. I was talking to some people the other day about the songs that are out the moment, and they were saying a couple of the biggest songs are Hello by Adele (which I wrote about recently) and Sorry by J Beibs. It’s interesting that both these songs are anthems of regret and reconciling the past. I recently saw a viral video done by APlus in which they put a blank chalkboard in the middle of New York, saying “Write your biggest regret”. Dozens of people wrote on it about different missed opportunities or things they wished had turned out different, all with a common theme of things not done, more than things that were. You can check that one out here.
You don’t have to talk to too many people to find out that some of these come in the form of words that were spoken to us, or words we spoke to others. Our words are so powerful. Life and death, literally in the power of the tongue. If you’re reading this, no doubt you probably know the reality of that fact. And more often than not, it’s come down to this – we didn’t say what we really meant.
There are all sorts of scenarios where this behaviour comes into play. It could be a work situation where someone has been passing on half-truths. It could be a relationship where a person said one thing, but did another. It could be a friendship where someone hid vital information from the other friend. It could be a volunteer situation, where someone has made verbal commitments to be there, but acted without followthrough. Maybe you were the one who miscommunicated, or maybe you’re the one who was on the receiving end.
Whatever situation we may be looking at, let’s have a look at some of the motivations behind how this happens. This isn’t justification of behaviour or anything like that, this is just a look at the reasons why we don’t say what we mean. In understanding the reasons I think we are better equipped in our dealings with others. So, let’s go.
#1: We don’t want to hurt the person
Here’s the grand daddy reason that all of us find ourselves faced with at some point. You know this one. Your pregnant wife or friend comes up to you, very self conscious, just had to buy a maternity dress, and she says, “Do you think I’m putting on weight?”.
You’ve got a few options here. One is to run. Two is to pretend you didn’t hear it. Three is to offer a response. And what response do you offer? Do you tell her “well yes, but that’s normal”? Do you slam her paranoia and tell her she’s the biggest she’s ever been? Or do you say “nah, no way, I thought you lost weight”?
This is the principle example we always refer to, but we find ourselves more seriously in situations where we are genuinely concerned our words could have a detrimental effect on the other person.
Of course, the unfortunate reality is that withholding the truth from people usually ends up hurting worse than honesty ever could.
King Solomon said that faithful are the wounds of a friend. Faithful wounds, what a concept. Scripture also tells us we should speak the truth in love. It encourages us that if we need to speak the truth, that we do so in love, and if our words end up hurting someone, that if they are spoken from love they should produce a faithful result in us. I know I have been more hurt by words incorrectly spoken than words spoken in truth and honesty. I love it when some of my close friends have just said what’s up without messing around. It just makes things so much easier.
It may save us a bit of inconvenience at the start, but the white lies that have to be maintained in not saying what we meant originally usually end up doing more damage than we are trying to avoid.
#2: We used someone else’s words
I saw a meme the other day where the BFF has to pretend they don’t know what’s up in your relationship, but the BFF is like “that text was my words I know what’s up”.
Very often we turn to others for advice and opinions on situations in our lives. Look at politics – perfect example. The cabinet or party meeting will determine the direction the party is going to vote in, regardless of what the leader of the party has as a stance. The leader of the party then needs to communicate the strength of the view, even if they don’t personally believe it that strongly themselves.
This is usually okay if your plan is to adopt someone else’s perspective, but if you don’t fully agree with them, it’s inevitable that you run the risk of ditching that approach at some point. This leaves us in a state where the words spoken don’t match the reality delivered.
#3: We did it completely intentionally
This is an ugly one, but we have to be real here, right? Sometimes we are 100% fully aware that we aren’t telling someone the truth, and our motive is not actually pure. Sometimes we are entirely self-seeking, and we are fully aware of it.
We’ll do it for the attention. We’ll do it to further a political agenda. We’ll do it to get our way in the office. We’ll do it to put someone in a situation where they have to work harder for us. We’ll do it to make someone suffer.
Like it or not, sometimes we’re just liars with a selfish motive.
#4: We reacted the way we always do
Sometimes we aren’t actually too self aware. Mindfulness is the art of being aware of who we are and why we do the things we do. There are moments where we have significant lapses here. We aren’t always aware of the fact that sometimes we’re just reacting out of the way we’ve always done things.
Steve Furtick covers this extremely well in The Problem in the Pattern. He talks about how we get into habits and patterns of behaviours that we have developed over time, either through what we have observed in our parents, or how we have reacted to the same problem multiple times. Shutting someone out? Are you aware you’ve been doing that ever since you watched your father doing it at home? Having negative reactions to stress? Did you notice that you always go back to that same vice whenever you’re stressed?
Not saying what you mean? It could be for a similar reason. Your parents didn’t say what they meant. You’ve developed a habit of telling half truths to get by. You limit people’s exposure to yourself by misleading them instead of setting them straight. As Steve says, the problem is the pattern.
All the brain research nowadays pretty emphatically confirms the existence of neural pathways. These frame our default reactions to situations. When we have a new reaction to something, eg. saying no when we usually say yes, or saying yes when we usually say no, it’s kind of awkward and difficult cause the pathway is being formed. Once it’s become repeated, a neural pathway is developed and reinforced, and the next time we see the same situation, we have a pathway our mind instantly reacts with.
This is great stuff in helping us become more aware of how our body is working when our behaviour goes one way after our words have gone another. Maybe it’s time to challenge or adjust our pathways.
#5: We actually did mean it at the time
Real talk. We’re human beings. We are notorious for changing our mind, even sometimes minutes after we’ve made a commitment or spoken a sentence.
This is where our words can be so confusing to others, but even more confusing to ourselves. Perhaps we felt pressured to make a decision or say something before we’d actually really thought it through. Maybe we did think it through, then a bit later a new piece of information is revealed and we aren’t so sure anymore.
I guess the only defence for this one is to ask for time when we need it, and to be diligent in sticking to what we say. I know sometimes there have been have been some commitments I’ve found myself wishing I hadn’t made even a few days later, but I’ve found as with many others that commitment and being true to our word will yield a result greater than constantly backtracking and second guessing our decisions.
The Psalms describe a person that we should aspire to be, a person who is never shaken, saying of them that they keep an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind. Paul also tells us that a double minded man is unstable in all their ways – not just in the area they are double minded in. Interesting. Once again, this is one of those self awareness situations.
#6: We wanted our words to be true
And here’s one we don’t always consider. I had a great takeaway from a conversation to this effect a few months ago:
What we say is who we aspire to be, but what we do is where we actually are
I guess we all know the dangers of idealizing people, but it’s also dangerous that we idealize ourselves by our own words. “I always like to be honest” – do you? “I’ll be there for you” – are you there for people now? I interview quite a few people for work, and I always laugh when someone says “I’m a committed and model employee” – in my mind I keep it tucked away and I look with anticipation of whether or not someone will prove it.
I think when words and reality don’t meet, it’s a real wake up call for us. That we should either change what we say, or follow through in action.
Faith without works is dead, they say. So too are words without actions. And there can be so many reasons why words and actions don’t line up. But knowing is half the battle.
Anyway, just some thoughts on possible reasons we don’t say what we mean. I’m sure there may be plenty more. How about you? Did any of these resonate with you? Do you have any other reasons our words and actions seems so different?