July 3

What I Meant To Say

July 3, 2018

Personal Growth

Martin called me and said, “Ashley [his wife] is mad at me, and it doesn’t make any sense.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“She made dinner for us last night, and the squash was way overcooked. It was more like a mush than a vegetable.”

“I’m guessing that you said something to her about it.”

“Of course. If I didn’t, then how would she know, so she didn’t do it again?”

“Does she normally overcook food?” I knew the answer to this, having eaten her food in the past.

There was a long pause before he said, “No, but she did this time.”

“So nine times out of ten, she’s a pretty good cook, but you thought it was important to point out the one time she made a mistake, and you did that so she’d know the proper way to cook squash, right?”

Again the pause. “Yes.”

“If a baseball player safely hit the ball nine times out of ten—or, if you prefer another sport, a soccer player scored nine times out of ten possessions, would you feel the need to point out the one time he failed to succeed? Or would you leave that player alone and recognize that he would be recognized as without peer and likely to be enshrined in every Hall of Fame that existed for his sport?”

“I’d probably leave him alone.”

“Yes, you would. So, the consistency of Ashley’s cooking would be absolute proof that she knows how to cook, wouldn’t it? Any individual sub-par performance would indicate only that she might have become busy with something else during food preparation, or perhaps even have taken a call from you. Am I right? The answer is either Yes or No, without defense on your part.”

“Yes, she’s a good cook.”

“So what you MEANT to say to her was, ‘Ashley, my dear, thanks for dinner. I’m grateful that you do this for me, and that you do it so well.’ Right?”

“Yes.”

“So call her up right now and tell her what you meant to say last night, and apologize for being a moron as you said what you did say.”
The next time Martin saw Ashley, he said, “Remember my comment about the squash last night?”

Of course she did, but she didn’t rub it in. “Yes.”

“I was an idiot,” he said. “What I MEANT to say was, ‘You are so sweet to prepare meals for me, and you do it all the time and almost never with any expression of gratitude on my part. I really appreciate what you do for me, and that you do it as an expression of your love for me.’”

Ashley wept. She was accustomed to Martin’s criticism and to the absence of gratitude for all she offered freely.

Mistakes are so easy to see. Too easy. We can look at a freshly, meticulously painted wall and find the ONE spot that was missed or unevenly covered with paint. Mistakes stick out, and they give us an almost irresistible sense of power as we point them out. But RARELY is such identification necessary, because:

  • The mistakes are so insignificant that almost nobody could possibly care less.
  • The person making the mistake knows what they’re doing—they’re not stupid—so the error was simply a matter of inattention, or poor materials, or whatever. They don’t NEED our pointing out anything to them.
  • Nobody is happier as a result of our arrogance, and happiness is far more important than the identification of nearly any mistake imaginable.

What DOES lead to connection and happiness—with remarkable consistency—is our expressions of gratitude for the efforts of other people on our behalf.

Do this as an experiment. Everywhere you go, talk about how you appreciate the efforts of those who make your life easier and more pleasant. Trust me, they know when they make mistake, and your gratitude will yield far better results than what you’re doing now. 

Instead of criticizing, think about what you meant to say . . . and say THAT. You’ll be glad you did.

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