“Be careful, the wind is passing you!”
I looked to see who it was that threw these words at me as I jogged through the Salem Common. It was a young physically fit man sitting on a park bench.
It felt like a reply was necessary, but none was forthcoming so I just kept jogging. But my mind was reeling.
What would compel someone to throw discouragement towards another person?
Was he trying to be funny?
Did he feel threatened by seeing someone trying to improve their life?
Was he scorned by a jogger in his past so he has dedicated his life to tearing all joggers down?
Or was he just being careless with his words?
L'esprit d'escalier is a French term that literally means “staircase wit.” It refers to those missed opportunities where you think of the perfect reply to someone’s comment too late.
Even though this happened too many years ago to count, I still think of that man’s comment more often than I would like—usually while jogging. And, oh my goodness, I’ve certainly come up with many responses with my l'esprit d'escalier.
I have come to a conclusion, though, that truly no response was necessary, because the goal of communication is not merely to express ideas or win people over to your way of thinking, but rather it’s about creating a common understanding that includes rather than excludes and unites rather than divides (as derived from archaic words meaning to create a common understanding).
And carelessly throwing discouragement to another person will never be a constructive path to genuine communication.
Ultimately, I still don’t know what this man was trying to communicate—a valuable reminder that in communication it’s seldom about intention and more about how it lands with the other person.
Even though his intention didn’t quite come in for a safe landing, I still learned a valuable lesson from him:
It is prudent to always be careful of what our words and behaviors are communicating, lest we unwittingly exclude and divide rather than include and unite.
What are your words and behaviors communicating to the people around you? Are they intentional or are they careless?
I'm a mirror (and so are you).