“Your dog is really sweet,” I said as I reached down to pet the creature. I usually ask if I can pet someone’s dog, but this dog was licking my shoes and curling around my ankles, making herself comfortable under my chair. The dog’s owner was sitting next to me rifling through her purse. “I think she can smell my dog,” I said as her pup proceeded to soak my shoe.
“Oh, yeah, what kind of dog do you have?” she asked while she tugged on her dog’s leash.
“I have a Great Dane,” I beamed.
“They die sooo young,” she said with a matter-of-fact tone; “I knew a Great Dane once,” she raised her eyebrows, shaking her head slightly, “died very young. So young.”
Who says that?
I’m ashamed to say that I felt the necessity to tell her that the Great Danes from the particular kennel I got Phoebe boast a long lifespan. “Above average,” I said. What the heck! Why am I validating this person’s strange comment about my dog’s lifespan?
I’m sad about my response because it’s not the response I would have liked to have given.
Why didn’t I just say, “I’m curious; with all the magnificent things you could have said about the Great Dane breed, like their desire to please, their sweet disposition, their breathtaking physique, why did you decide to lead with that tidbit?” Or I could have said, “That might be true, but I think the fact that they are great with children and easy to train is so much more interesting and important.” It’s not the first time someone’s brought up the lifespan factoid in small talk. I replay the conversation partly because, if patterns can be trusted, I know I’ll face this exact statement again in the future, and I’d like to be prepared, but more important because generally speaking I feel like I fail when confronting people who say misguided and potentially hurtful things.
Just to be clear, I’m not actually hurt by the statement that a Great Dane’s lifespan is on average shorter than other dogs’ lifespans. (Phoebe’s feelings are another matter. Knowing how tenderhearted she is, she’s crushed.) I did my research, and I still chose her (and would do it again). It’s just a really awkward thing to bring up. And I validated it.
Humans are strange.
I replay conversations in my head for days after they happen. I also replay silences in my head wondering if they should have been conversations. I wonder over and over about the things I’d like to have said but didn’t.
I spend too much time pondering a harmless exchange with a stranger and her puppy, so imagine how much time I spend ruminating about things that actually matter. Sometimes the things people say are just strange, and sometimes the things people say are hurtful or plain wrong. I usually think of the perfect response three days later, and then it’s weird to go back and say the thing I should have said.
In person, I tend to either respond with ineffectual gibberish, or if I’m not feeling overly polite, what comes out is an overflow of a conversation I’m having in my head (usually in the form of satire leaning heavily on sarcasm) and (if I’m lucky) some clipped version of that internal conversation will come out, sounding something like, “I just can’t.” Other times, my whole sarcastic thought will blurt out, and I’ve found that in most situations sarcasm is an under-appreciated form of communication. By that I mean it’s ineffectual. It’s a verbal eye-roll that makes me feel better but does nothing to advance understanding. So pretty much the word of the day here is ineffectual. Which is great! Exactly what I’m after. God’s plan for you, Kian, is to be completely ineffectual. (Oh, sarcasm, how I love you in a dysfunctional sort of way.)
On social media (let’s face it, it’s today’s town square) I tend to stay silent when faced with false, illogical, and inappropriate statements. Honestly, complete silence is often a good option, but I’m afraid that silence, if overused, will validate or excuse. It’s tough to disagree online. Here is what I’ve witnessed over and over: Someone posts a comment or meme about something controversial, and if there are responses that point out a logical fallacy or error in the original post, the person responding is heckled and ultimately blocked or unfriended. After this happens a few times, the person posting his or her opinions or ideas is only posting to an audience of like-minded people or people who may not be like-minded but are silent, so there is no confrontation and no one to challenge harmful ideas. Many people only listen to news that validates their preconceived notions, and they only have “friends” who agree with them. Folks have insulated themselves in bubbles such that they only hear the echo of their own voices over and over all day long.
Was there ever a civilized and robust meeting of ideas and sharpening of minds? Or is that just a fairytale? If I conjure an image of our current state of discourse it is of people screaming soundbites though a megaphone pressed tightly against their mouths all the while having earplugs firmly placed in each ear. Is that healthy?
Anyway, the exchange with the Great-Dane-lifespan-obsessed woman got me thinking about inarticulate and impotent responses. If I don’t use my voice to “meet” and to “sharpen,” I certainly can’t wonder why it’s not happening.
I’ve been thinking about a New Year’s resolution, and I think I just stumbled on it. (Shhh. I know it’s pretty much February.) I’m going to work on being less of a milquetoast. I don’t want to be a bull in a china shop either, so I need to think about how to land somewhere in the middle.
This is important for a couple reasons:
1) People matter. Our pastor reminded us this past weekend that “people mattered to Jesus not because of their title, rank, heritage, or what they had to offer. Every person is an image-bearer of God, and we the redeemed people of God should be quick to point that out.”
2) My voice matters.
But how I use my voice also matters.
So there are a couple things I want to remember as I strengthen my spine:
1) Who says that? It’s not okay to say what we’re thinking if what we’re thinking is wrong, racist, harmful, tacky, or inappropriate. It’s actually not okay to think that way either.
2) Silence is still golden. Speaking up is not always the best option. Like when we’re listening. We need to know when to speak and when to listen. Sometimes silence accomplishes more than any words ever could.
Are you compelling when it comes to confronting ideas and opinions that differ from your own? Do people want to listen to your point of view even if they don’t agree with you? Do you have advice for how to kindly say, “Who says that?”