Saying The Right Thing

Photo by Daniel Fazio on Unsplash

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and immediately afterward you wondered if you’d said the right thing?

The right thing.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase for a while now, pondering its meaning. There are opinions about it everywhere. How-to articles for saying the right thing even when you don’t know what to say. Blog posts enumerating the right things to say in the case of death or divorce or despair. Books offering instruction for saying the right thing not just sometimes, but every time.

Can you imagine? Getting blindsided with bad news, yet being promptly prepared with the right words of comfort. Or having some helpful wisdom snap to the forefront of your mind at the very moment a friend reaches out for advice.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure that’s ever happened to me. I’m not sure I’ve ever come up with the exact right thing to say at the exact moment I needed to say it. I mean, I’m a writer. Sometimes it takes me three, four, even a dozen or more tries to get the dialogue right in a scene.

But this is real life and unfortunately we don’t get to go back to edit and re-edit what we say, nor do we often have a lot of time to come up with it. In most situations we only get one shot. And sometimes I wonder if the pressure of needing to say precisely the right thing (or else risk ridicule or criticism) may lead to a lot of not saying anything at all, or worse yet, not showing up at all.

Because on the flip side of the right thing is, of course, the wrong thing. But maybe that is an illusion as well. A conclusion based solely on our own expectations and perceptions. A ruling that does not take into account the other person’s intentions. Their attempt to understand our experience, to offer the best guidance they can.

And shouldn’t that be what matters most? Response over rightness. Effort over exactitude. Presence over perfection. Maybe that’s all it really takes to always say the right thing.

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