Jan 18, 2012 0 Share

More Powerful Than Sticks and Stones

Jumble of emotion words.

One bone of contention between Aspies and NTs is that Aspies most often call something by its precise name and sometimes don't even understand why it upsets some people. 

To Aspies, people talk so we can exchange facts and opinions. How we feel about each other generally doesn't matter much to us when we're conversing. 

We Aspies care quite a bit about how we word things … so as to be as precise as possible. For example, if someone were to say “I was feeling really nauseous … ” we might even interrupt and say “No, you were feeling really nauseated. It was your own undercooked chicken that was actually nauseous.” 

(Meanwhile she's thinking to herself: And in just a moment you're going to become nauseated when I give you one right in the breadbasket! But that's another story.) 

Sometimes we have difficulty seeing the forest for the trees. We're so careful about getting the dictionary definition right that we totally tick off people. 

Conversations transmit feelings. And sometimes that's their most important function. So when correcting somebody—especially but not only in front of others—we need to think for a moment about just what we're correcting. Obviously, if it's something like: 

Hmmm … how long should I boil this three-minute egg? I know—four minutes!” 

Then go ahead and chime in: 

“Have you considered three minutes instead? That way you can start enjoying your delicious egg a minute sooner.” 

This approach sounds good to many people, because (1) you ask a question instead of making a flat statement and (2) you mention how doing it the right way is in the other person's interest. 

On the other hand, for something more like: 

Hmmm … I have cream, eggshell and ivory shoes I can wear on Memorial Day. I think I'll wear the ivory to show my solidarity with the elephants!” 

Do they really need your input? I'm guessing not. 

Meanwhile, certain issues of wording are very important because they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Take the economy. (“Please!”) When you hear that we might go into a recession, what's the smart thing to do? If you're a consumer, buy less and save more, in case you or someone else in your family loses a job. If you're a business, hire fewer workers (maybe even lay some off) and invest less, because you don't need that much productive capacity when there's going to be less demand for what you sell. 

And why is there less demand? Because consumers are buying less and saving more because they're afraid of losing their jobs. And why are they afraid of job losses? Because businesses are cutting back on workers and other forms of investment, including buying from other firms that employ people, because they're afraid of lower demand. 

So if, say, a government official announces that we're heading into a recession, this can actually help cause it to happen if it hasn't taken place already. (That's an important reason why the government is slow to declare a recession, by the way.) 

And the word “depression” (for the economy) is even worse, because it reminds people of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Indeed, the very fact that we've avoided using the term “depression” since then makes people ever more sensitive to hearing it now. 

During the late 1970s we experienced a serious recession (and also some inflation), and economic adviser Alfred Kahn warned that we may experience a “deep depression.” President Jimmy Carter, understandably, got upset and asked him not to use the D word anymore. So instead, Kahn said we may experience “the worst banana in 45 years.” Everyone, of course, knew what he was really talking about. But the difference may have helped. (It certainly didn't hurt in this case!) 

In a nutshell, feelings sometimes drive facts. So let's pay more attention to our words. It's one thing to mean good tidings, and quite another to convey them.