After my fourth son received his mission call (Canada Montreal, Mandarin speaking!) our friends and neighbors celebrated with us and shared all the usual tidbits of information about the mission and people they knew in the area, etc.
Oddly, in the midst of all the congratulations, my fifth son heard something different. Over and over people said to him, “Wow, your brothers have all had such interesting mission calls. Ha, I bet you’ll go somewhere boring like Wyoming/Nevada/Idaho.”
I stood next to him during these conversations enough times to know people just thought they were being clever and funny; they certainly didn’t mean any offense. But my son has just enough insecurities about keeping up with his four over-achieving older brothers that he felt a bit wounded. And as an champion of missionaries everywhere, I don’t support the idea that there are interesting and non-interesting missions.
Within a few Sundays the talk about mission calls receded and I talked to my son about ignoring the dumb things people say. As Saints, we need to work constantly on not taking offense. A huge portion of Christlike living lies in letting things go, learning to live with the bumps and bruises inflicted by our fellow Saints. But while I’m working on those qualities, I also want to avoid hurting others.
I cringe to think of the many thoughtless comments I’ve made over the years out of simple ignorance.
We talk a lot about learning not to be offended, but today let’s talk about how we can avoid meaningless platitudes and social gaffes. I think we’d all like to be the delightful person who says just the right thing. I hope to leave everyone feeling a little happier and a little better (not running from me in the halls at church).
Perhaps we can create a syllabus for ‘Polite Conversation 101.’ I’ll share my meager knowledge and you can add yours in the comments. Together we can avoid social mishaps and the proverbial foot in the mouth. At least most of the time.
What not to say (these are well-known, but worth repeating):
- THOSE WHO ARE MOURNING
He’s in a better place now.
God must have needed her more than you do.
- YOUNG ADULTS
How’s your love life?
When are you going to get married?
When are you going to start a family?
Isn’t it time you gave ____ a sibling?
Are you pregnant? (No matter how big the belly—never, ever ask!)
- FAMILIES WITH MISSIONARIES
I can’t believe your missionary is coming home.
Two years just flies by!
People aren’t trying to cause offense. Most of these comments simply translate into, “I’m aware of you and I’m interested in your life.” Our ward members simply want to connect and often don’t know how. We tend to comment on appearance or future expectations, “You’ve grown so much!” “Are you getting ready for a mission?”
I’ve warned my kids people will inevitably talk about their height and school. They simply need to accept those comments in this stage of life. But if you really want to connect with kids and teens, talk to them about something besides their appearance, catch them doing something good and compliment them, or simply say ‘hello.’
Listening and complimenting are the twin super-powers in conversation. Use them lavishly.
And now I’ve reached the end of my knowledge (it didn’t take long!). Please share your own tips on what not to say, conversation starters and how to avoid turning into the annoying person at church.