Do You Know What You Mean When You Say It?
I critique everything.
I don’t set out to do it – but it always happens. And it’s not necessarily a judgment. There have been times when I’ve wondered what’s wrong with me. I used to say I was just cynical. But cynicism is a negative term that describes a behavior or attitude that is bitter or disparaging. And a cynic believes that people always act selfishly and without regard for the greater good. I’d like to think of myself more as guarded or cautious.
When situations go awry – relationships, conversations – I ask myself, when I’m in a better head-space, what role did I play in what happened. I’ve come to learn that sometimes I’ve had a misunderstanding of what my own expectations have been. Likewise this awareness has helped me identify how literal (or naïve) I can be when I am participating in a function or gathering. Over time I’ve had to assess for myself the veracity of another’s action(s) and not just their spoken intention (or heart felt purpose) through my own lens. For example, in a conversation with a colleague she made a comment about Austin, Texas saying something like, “I’ve always loved Austin. It’s a lot of fun and a safe place to enjoy yourself.” Her context is different than mine. So I asked, “Is it a safe place for everybody?” She looked at me, knowing me well, and had the look of “AHA” on her face, smiled and said she wasn’t sure. I appreciated that.
Another caution is the “Invitation.” This happens a lot in the church and mostly covertly. Leaders will ask for volunteers for whatever and say it’s ok if you don’t want to participate then later hold a grudge (or embedded disappointment of some kind) for the lack of participation. Some of this is on purpose – guilting someone, some not.
My ears perk up when I hear “I invite you to ….” not because I love invitations, but because I want to feel that the invitation is real. I was in a class about prayer when we got the invitation to pick up the detailed instructions on how our assignment was to be done. This is the language of spirituality so I hear it a lot. This particular instructor used it regularly. So I commented that I thought her use of the word, invitation, was interesting because it didn’t feel like an invitation but more like a direction. She told me that of course it was an invitation and I didn’t have to choose to accept the invitation but would likely fail the class if I didn’t. So …. Does that sound inviting to you?
Just in case you were wondering, this example also applies to the way dominant culture thinking works. I’ll let you wrestle with that one…..