No good comes from blogging after midnight

Last night I read something on the interwebs that got my gander up. I won’t go into specifics, but generally speaking, somebody chose to describe her personal experiences using language that I found to be overly dramatic, and inappropriate to the level of hardship. I’ve heard her phrasology ascribed to other, more worthy hardships, including some of the trials I myself have faced. Certainly HER trial is not the level of hardship of MY trials, and she dared to use the same language!!!

The nerve.

I’m not usually defensive about language, because I think that people only have their own experience to describe things, and if something is genuinely hard for them, it’s not very polite or kind to say, “Hard? You think THAT’s hard? I’ll show you hard, lady!” And everybody learns by scale, after all, and everything looks easier after you’ve been through it and are looking back from the other side, i.e., the older woman who tells you to enjoy these years because they grow so gosh darned fast while your child is trying to simultaneously dump out all of the shampoo in the hair care products aisle and strip so he can run naked through the grocery store.

Yeah, that.

And I’ve known lots of people who make posts about “What not to say to a [adoptive parent/migraine sufferer/diabetic/new mom/cancer survivor/mom who miscarried/son of a pirate].” Everybody has a story where somebody treated them with grossly insensitive language, and they aren’t stories that fade easily with memory.

Bottom line—language is important.

It took me a long time last night to simmer down, and I thought a lot about why this particular language got under my skin. I think I felt a certain proprietary about it. Only people with THESE specific trials can use that phrase, dang it! I acknowledged to myself that such a position is prideful, exclusive, and narcissistic, and nothing about that feeling comes close to any kind of definition of charity.

I assume that if you are reading this, you’re a blogger, so you care about words. And if you are a regular at Segullah, you probably REALLLY care about words. So I ask you–why do we feel so stingy about language sometimes? Why do we feel we have to earn certain labels, certain phrases, certain points of conversation? Is it just pride, or is there something else going on? Have you ever felt like somebody used a phrase to describe themselves or their situation that they didn’t “deserve”?

If I don’t get back to this discussion for a while, I apologize. I’m on my way to my book club. Where we will be talking about our favorite poems. Yeah, we’re word nerds.

About Heather O.

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

33 thoughts on “No good comes from blogging after midnight

  1. Words are so important because they are how we construct and express meaning in our lives. Without words, life is utterly meaningless!

  2. I think that it is definitely pride, and I have been guilty of it before as well. And as much as we try to remember that we can’t decide how bad a particular trial is to another person, even though we feel like that trial isn’t as bad as the person is making it out to be, we often forget that or at least can’t access the compassion to get over ourselves. There aren’t many accounts in the scriptures of Jesus telling someone “Stop whining and being overly dramatic. If you think this is bad, try being crucified.” ;)

  3. Morgan, I need to remember that last phrase!

    Heather, I understand this too well. In fact, I almost destroyed a 28 year friendship over the language my friend used in order to show me sympathy during one of the hardest times of my life. I was livid. How dare she claim to understand the specifics?? Luckily, we rebuilt that bridge after I gorged myself on humble pie. And cake. And brownies.

    We should never compare trials. We should be careful what we write and speak– absolutely. But we should forgive quicker, and I still wish I hadn’t learned that the hard way. :(

  4. I don’t think it’s pride, at least not necessarily. I don’t like it when people use the word rape to describe x,y or the trauma of z. If it’s not rape, don’t say you felt like you were raped.

    I also don’t like it when people use terms like PTSD to describe anything but real-life PTSD.

    Our suffering isn’t equal. We can’t start calling everything the same thing and/or describing things in the same way because we want people to understand, “MY LIFE IS REALLY HARD.” People may feel justified, or are trying to say life sucks. Sure, say things are crappy, or a bad experience was crappy–but don’t pretend the worst things imaginable=the suffering you happen to experience.

    I’m not sure why people do this. But I think there is a risk to not being able to recognize real suffering and real atrocities if we decide it’s all subjective, because it’s not. Frex, it downplays the holocaust to label things a holocaust that aren’t, in fact, the holocaust. We need to be able to recognize real suffering on scale.

    That being said, it’s not really fair to downplay someone’s suffering to the degree that you don’t think they are suffering. Frex, just because you had a baby and handled it just peachy doesn’t mean you should think the sister who is really struggling with baby number one should just quit whining and buck up.

  5. I think we have all been there to some degree…whether it is written or spoken. I think you hit it on the nose. “I know what hard is…you don’t. So stop complaining.” But I also agree you were right to say we need to take a step back and see that no-one trial is the same because we are all different. SO what may look like a piece of cake to us, may in truth be huge for the other person. Kind of like labor. Some women have no problem popping babies out, while others labor for hours in pain. We should not judge…me included…we should not.

  6. I don’t think it’s pride to be so concerned about the words we use. When we don’t hold ourselves to a standard of vocabulary don’t the words take on whole new meanings? If words change meanings where is our common ground for discussion? How can we ever hope to communicate effectively if “rape” means someone opened the public restroom stall on them and to another person it means violently forced sexual contact?

    Word meanings are especially important in the church, where our testimonies are intertwined with doctrines taught by lay clergy, where translation into other languages is ongoing, and we often disagree about the usage of simple words like “free” when placed next to “agency”.

    Look at recent counsel to be specific in how we proclaim our church membership, not “Mormon” but “I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” We all know that’s a mouthful and I am hardly ever able to get it all out without tumbling over it and feeling forced to ramble on about what it means and why it’s so long.

    And here on the internet words are everything. Unless you have a really great avatar.

  7. I realized after about seven years of marriage that I was being prideful in how I was treating my mother-in-law. I refused to call her “mom” and hated it when she called me her “daughter.” I really wanted the “-in-law” added to both of those. For a long time, the word “mom” meant strength, independence, and all those qualities that I saw in my mom, but not in my mother-in-law. How wrong I was. Once I figured it out–that the language I used with her could better our relationship–it actually got better. Language is so important in the relationships we have.

  8. Okay, first of all, I love that cartoon. And “son of a pirate” is something I really need to start saying. Son of a Pirate! Funny stuff.

  9. I’m really uncomfortable with people using the word “Nazi” to describe picky, uptight, or controlling behavior. That was not what the Nazi party was about. I think that, like some commenters have pointed out, we do have to be careful with language because it can be easy to become so broad that meaning is lost. However, I’m not sure the moment of a particular person’s suffering is the time to point out their incorrect language usage.

  10. Language has deep meaning. Just look at the words chosen in the scriptures, and how we can learn layers of meaning from one phrase.

    I think it’s important to remember that words are only 7% of our total communication with others. I think this is why people can get SO riled up on the internet – We all interpret the words we read with our own lens, and have no true idea of what the other person is actually trying to say.

    It’s also easy to forget that someone else is on the other side of the screen… I have encountered “mommier than thou” behaviour from both sides of the parenting spectrum (AP and beyond) and it’s just plain hurtful to see someone mocking choices that I’ve carefully made for my own family.

    Patience and compassion is key. I try to word my blog posts in a certain way in the effort to convey meaning, but that doesn’t mean I’m always successful….

  11. I don’t think it’s pride, at least not necessarily. I don’t like it when people use the word rape to describe x,y or the trauma of z. If it’s not rape, don’t say you felt like you were raped.

    Perfect example, MMiles, and “Nazi”, too, FoxyJ. My sister used the word “Nazi” after I returned from Germany (and visiting Auschwitz in Poland), and I had a visceral reaction about her casual usage of the word. That’s exactly what I was trying to say, that identifying with something that is horrific when your life is, in fact, NOT horrific downplays what is really horrifying while at the same elevating your own issues. Unless it was *actually* the holocaust, you shouldn’t call it that.

    There aren’t many accounts in the scriptures of Jesus telling someone “Stop whining and being overly dramatic. If you think this is bad, try being crucified.”

    SUCH an awesome line, Morgan! And so true, which means that even as we try to figure out what language to use to describe how we feel, you can never go wrong with compassion.

    Alisha, I would be super uncomfortable calling my MILs “mom”. I call them both by their first name, and if they asked me to call them mom, I would probably do it, but it would bother me. I say “them” because my husband has a mom and a stepmom, and he calls both of them “mom”. It’s sort of a joke–whenever I say to him, “I talked to your mom today”, he always asks, ‘Which one?’ But I know it was hard for him to get to the point where he called his stepmother “mom”, only because he felt like that took away from the relationship with his mother. Also, his mother (now remarried) refers to her stepchildren’s children as her ‘grandchildren’, putting them on the same emotional level as my children. The first time she said that, it was surprisingly hurtful to me–they’re not your REAL grandchildren–MY children are your grandchildren! I got over it quickly–after all, we all consider my husband’s stepmom as my children’s third grandma–but I was surprised that it would bother me at all. It gave me a small glimpse of the minefield other people navigate when it comes to labeling the women in their lives, and the language of motherhood.

    Thanks for all the other comments. Great discussion!

  12. As a mother-in-law, I would consider it the greatest compliment if my daughters-in-law called me mom, which they don’t. I personally consider it the litmus test for that relationship. In the same vein, I’m glad Heavenly Father isn’t terratorial about the word “Father” and that I could use it with my biological father and my wonderful step father-in-law.

    I think our hearts have a long ways to go if a relationship merits a term and we think its diminishing to another if we use it. I’m not saying it should be automatic, but we need to examine our hearts as to why we can’t be expansive as well as inclusive with relationship terminology.

  13. I’ll admit, I had a hard time understanding what it could have been that made you so frustrated. Once commenters suggested “rape,” “holocaust,” and “Nazi” as terms that might apply, I began to understand. I agree that certain terms are used for emotional weight that is not warranted, especially in cases like these. And I’m bothered whenever Hitler is used in a non-genocidal context (like comparing our current president to Hitler? This makes me crazy.)

    In general, though, one of the lessons I’m learning is to listen for context, to understand what the speaker is trying to say, rather than get frustrated at what I’m hearing on the surface. After my brother died, a well-meaning relative asked if I was worried about his eternal welfare since he no longer considered himself a member of the LDS church. I could have chosen to be terribly offended (since it’s not the BEST kind of comfort to be offered after a death), but I knew she was simply thinking aloud. I know she loves me and she loved my brother. Assigning a negative motive to her words would have put a wedge in our relationship, when what I needed was more connection. Yes, I’m bringing it up, so obviously the comment hasn’t been forgotten, but there is no pain equated with her words.

    I remember being in high school and having a very emotional discussion about prom dresses with a friend. We were very upset about not finding the right dresses. (VERY upset.) In the middle of our conversation, we looked at each other and said, “This isn’t a problem that seems very big, but it’s very big to us.” And that’s how I see most of my problems now. My own problems have enormous weight since I’m the one who has to figure them out. Do I understand that they may not compare to others’ enormous difficulties? Yes. Does comparing them lessen their impact on my life? No. In fact, I feel more guilty when I compare, and less able to manage my own problems. The only thing that has seemed to make a difference and truly give me perspective is my search for gratitude. When I’m feeling the most thankful, I’m the most able to put my own problems in context and also have the most charity to those around me, even those making mountains out of molehills.

  14. I love this post! I definitely find that I have strong feels about language. As a mental health professional, it drives me crazy when folks casually use the term ‘bipolar’ to describe/diagnose anyone with any emotional variability.

    I’m also a little persnickety about the way punctuation is used when it distorts the meaning of a message. For example, I simply can’t tolerate blogs where every sentence ends with an exclamation point. (We didn’t have milk, so I ran to the store! It was so funny! When I got home, my husband made pancakes! And then I read the paper!) It takes away from phrases that require an exclamation point to communicate meaning, like “RUN! FIRE!” My 12th grade English teacher used to say that we had 3 allotted exclamation points for our entire lives, so we’d best use them wisely. (!)

  15. And then I find it amusing when, in a comment about language, I blatantly use the wrong word. I meant feelings, obviously, and not feels. Sheesh.

  16. I think that a lot of emotions (hurt, pain, sorrow) are more universal and can be felt based on numerous causes (both obvious like losing a loved one, or hidden like depression). So while someone else might not know the loss you feel from X, they might know how loss feels from experiencing Y. Maybe it would help us heal if we embrace the sympathy of people who want to share in our hurt instead of turning them away because they just don’t know what X feels like.

  17. On another note, I agree that no good comes from much of anything after midnight. Some of my darkest moments have been after midnight. Somehow the morning makes things manageable again.

  18. Interesting that mom/mother-in-law would come up here since I’ve been thinking about it independent of this post. I wish there were a term of endearment to refer to “mother-in-law” in the English language. I love my MIL but I can’t say the word “Mom” without thinking of one specific woman, and it is NOT my MIL. I know others feel very differently about this and that is fine but it simply does not work for me.

  19. Sharon, I disagree that not being comfortable calling a MIL “mom” is a litmus test for that relationship. I’m not the most perfect daughter-in-law, but I think I have a pretty good relationship with my husband’s mothers. I would never call them mom, though, even though I love them both. I have one mother, and I would feel that applying that label to another woman would take away from that. Perhaps you find that silly, but that’s how I feel. I also think it would hurt my mother to hear me call somebody else “mom”. She’d get over it, because she’s good like that, but to me, it’s a no brainer. Those women are not my mother. They are wonderful loving women who are generous on every level, but they’re not my mother.

  20. As I was reading this thread, right as I was in the middle of Kerri’s comment during her observation of the Prom dress catastrophe, my toddler was screamy about not being able to put on his boot all by himself and I thought “that is NOT a big deal – why are you screaming about it?” And then I had to laugh because it WAS a Big Deal to him for his 19MO reason and that can be ok with me. :)

  21. In-law relationships are interesting, aren’t they? It is so personal how one person might look at the relationship (and judge how close they are with the other person). It can, for a lot of us, come down to words–words come packed with so much feeling. I think in all instances, it’s good to be sensitive and tolerant.

  22. over dramatic language as used by “Drama Queens” is over the top annoying and conter productive. I married into a Drama Queen’s family Mother-in-laws reaction to the 24 hour flu gives us not way of judging when she is serious in need of medical attention. Watching her family I think this over dramatic language is learned behavior and is an attention getting device. I also now understand why my husband didn’t take me seriously when I asked for help. My newest daughter in law solved the Mom problem by calling Me MIL and my husband FIL. Isn’t she clever.

  23. I only scanned the comments, so probably someone has already made this point, but here is my opinion nonetheless:

    I think our words are very ingrained in our experiences and just like every profession has its own lingo we create lingoes in our families, schools, among our friends, etc. The meanings of what we say/how we say them rarely transfers to a general public … which really does make it an exercise in sensitivity and a real attempt to break out of your own word schemas to accommodate others (particularly in the text heavy nature of blogs and comments! Half the rabidly angry comments I read stem from word choice — and not intent of the author).

    I also think this post could be turned into an entirely other interesting post on when/if it is every appropriate to ‘compare’ trials/hardships.

  24. Lauren, that would be an interesting discussion. I think everybody’s gut reaction is “Of course we don’t compare trials, everybody deserves compassion and love no matter what.” And that’s true, but sometimes it’s good to get some perspective on what is hard, and what is REALLY hard. I don’t know if that is possible, though, because we only have our own experiences. My hardest trial might be insignificant compared to others, but it’s still the VERY HARDEST thing that has ever happened in my life, and so is still meaningful and difficult and important, even if it isn’t cancer, or widowhood, or the loss of a child, or anything else that comes to mind (or my mind, at least) as the very hardest things a woman can live through.

    And we do compare trials, or at least most people do. I hear people say, “Well, at least we don’t have to live through X, like that poor slob over there.” Or, “We can be grateful we have our lives instead of theirs.” But in my experience, even as we do that, it doesn’t end up being particularly helpful, it just adds guilt on top of everything else, guilt that in the midst of something that is the VERY HARDEST THING we’ve ever experienced, we aren’t grateful enough for our blessings, or, worse, grateful enough for the trial itself.

  25. This post hits home. My husband & his family are famous for responding to other people verbalizing their trials or hard times with something along the lines of Dr Seuss’s Don’t You Know How Lucky You Are and it is really frustrating/annoying to all the in-laws in the family. I believe most of the in-laws get frustrated because 99% of the time no one is looking for a band-aid or a first-aid kit to the problem.
    99% of the time what is being sought after is actually just validation that we have trials in this life, and trials are hard, no matter the variety. Whether the trial is a gossipy neighbor, an uninvested boss/manager, or literal loss of freedom such as rape/holocaust….its hard. I think in the end what matters is how we respond to the trial. And I do think it matters how we respond to the trials of those around us.

    Isn’t this why we’re repeatedly counseled ‘Thou Shalt Not Judge’ ?

    I really believe that the Lord our Savior is truly the only person who really really REALLY knows just how hard the trial is for us, regardless of how the trial comes across on the surface to others.

    Now that I made that soapbox declaration, I’d like to say that I enjoyed this post. Very true to human nature (!!!!! lol)

  26. All of my sisters/brothers in law called my MIL Mom. I just could not. She was not Mom like to me. The efforts to avoid the word Mom were really kind of funny. So I insist my daughter/sons in law call me by my first name. I think they are relieved. My little joke on my five sons in law is that they have been told I have requested that all five give me a eulogy at my funeral. That will be fun. Hope I get to hear it.

  27. This post is interesting because lately I’ve been thinking of how people use the phrase, “I know how you feel.” Last week I was speaking with a professor and had to explain why I dropped out of school for two years. I told him that my daughter was born with cancer and so I had to drop out to care for her. His response kind of flattened me. He said, “Oh, I know what that’s like. I had one son born with feet turned in and while he was an infant he had to wear braces on his legs for four months.”

    I’ve found that when someone else really has gone through something that they felt just as painfully as I did – whether its rejection in grade school from a boyfriend or a child with cancer – we really don’t need to say “I feel you pain.” A simple “I’m sorry” is enough if you feel a need to say anything at all.

    I like what FoxyJ said. Yes, it’s bothersome when people blow their troubles out of proportion, and some probably need help with perspective, but correcting them while they’re in the middle of the pain might not be the best time to do so.

  28. Perhaps “gets my gander” is a derivative of “that really gets my goose.”

    (Because, after all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.)

  29. Heather O. I don’t know if it is possible either. I asked someone else about their thought on trial comparison, someone who is an active member of the church, and also homosexual. He wrote a post saying that he does not think his trials are any greater than anyone else’s, and then someone in the comments shared the following quote by Viktor Frankl

    “…a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.”

    Which I try to remember every time I feel inclined to believe I am worse off … or sometimes when I worry about not suffering or having enough hardships (a strange type of survivor’s guilt…). Yet still there are some things I cannot help (like you said) but feel would be harder (like the things you mentioned) — or somethings society or people in my sphere of influence claim should be viewed as harder, and is that as it should be?

    Amos, I think validation is huge. In my experience you can’t go wrong with it because it either allows someone the peace of mind to gain perspective, or is the tool they need to make it through their grieving process and continue on with life. And in both instances allows for the person to still feel loved and cared about.

  30. Good food for thought, Heather! Some years ago, I wrote a blog post on a forum site(that crashed and lost it) about how our attempts to use language may distort reality. Some theorize that there is a nonverbal level of language and postulate when a person doesn’t quite have the right words to sum something up and knows it that it is proof. In my thinking about this, I think there must be a pre-language as how can we know what we are going to say in a sentence before we formed it if there is not a nonverbal level that contains the meaning.

    So in describing any situation, I feel it is hard to capture the truth in a way that really conveys it. In doing character sketches or any writing, I tend to whitewash and romanticize on purpose even if the person is anonymous because I like to be a positive person.

    However, I do believe that a person may be using rhetoric that may seem to strong to others but may be real to them. In high school, I had depression and anxiety that I would never be good at any in life. I didn’t think I would hold a job as I was too spacey. I didn’t think I would do well in college as it would be too much material. And there were other factors and all and also difficult circumstances. Yet, I would later have much more pain in life. Others may not relate to why I felt so much pain but I was very miserable. And in my state of misery, I felt I was way too dramatic in high school as I didn’t know what pain was. And yet, that would have done no good to my former self to have my future self come deliver a little lecture and all.

    Learning of others situations can be humbling but in my worst and most self-absorbed states, I was not so capable of it. And when I am in the right frame of mind, I can be extremely empathetic.

    Words and their shades of meaning or extremely important to me as someone who likes to write poetry. Although I may not have a very large vocabulary compared to some, I delight when I find the right word.

    Well, I didn’t know how much I would say on the subject. Oh, man, you picked a subject that I think about too much and therefore have way to much to expound upon. It will be interesting to see how incoherent I think it is in ten minutes and how I wished I had more order structure and restraint.

    For the record, Heather is one of my favorite bloggers and I learn a lot from her and respect her.

  31. Just for the record, I call my MIL “Mom.” She asked me to before we were even engaged, and it really wasn’t a big deal to me. Probably “invited me to” is a little more accurate because I never felt forced or anything. I think part of it is that my mom called her MIL “Mom” as well, so it seemed natural to me and doesn’t hurt my relationship, or how I view it, with my own mother in the least.

    But, hey, I don’t have any problems with everyone who feels differently, and I’ll have to remember everyone’s honest feelings here when one day I’m a MIL myself!

    I feel like believing in eternal marriage as we do, in-law relationships are a little more of a big deal. It’s been an interesting side discussion, huh? :)

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