Verbal auto-pilot

From the title, I know that this sounds like another rant about airlines. Well, it’s not…

Today, I walked into a depanneur (um, corner store, for my loyal readers outside Quebec) wearing my infant in a body carrier on my chest. The woman behind the cash smiled and, in that mushy-yet-sweet tone, asked to see the baby. I pulled back the flap that had moved over her face, the woman shared some oohs and aahs, and asked how old my daughter was. As I looked up, I saw that she was pregnant. My wife replied with our daughter’s age and asked when the woman was due. After she answered, I replied: “good lu –“, caught myself, and changed to “enjoy every minute; it’ll be great!”

My wife and I were struck by this situation during her recent labour. Nurse after nurse, doctor after doctor, visited our room, smiled, and wished us “good luck.” Really? Isn’t it their job to take *luck* out of the equation?

Picture this very common situation: you have to go to the airport for a flight. You ask a friend, family member or cab driver to get you there. As you take your luggage out of the trunk, you friendly driver calls out: “have a good flight!” Without missing a beat, you answer politely: “you too!”

You sit down in your favourite restaurant excited for the meal to come. You choose what to order and salivate as you relate your selections to the server. A short while later, the server brings your table’s orders and leaves you with a smile and an “enjoy your meal!” Again, you respond: “you too!”

We’ve all done it and there’s nothing wrong. Our intentions are likely very good, very polite. Someone just wished us something nice and we want to return the favour. However, these responses show one very clear inauthenticity: we did not take even a second to think about what we were about to say.

Outside the store, I thought about how helpless we feel (and are) when we rely on luck to get us through a situation. Giving birth to a new human being is not just any situation. So how is it that these health professionals, who probably understand the delicate, unique context of parents about to give birth and specifically mothers in labour, would commonly say something so useless? If their intentions are to be encouraging, surely there are dozens of other expressions that would be better received? I have come to the conclusion that this is but another example of how people automatically respond without thinking about what they are saying. The response *sounds* nice, it’s certainly not derogatory, there’s little-to-no chance of getting in trouble for it, so out it comes.

In the end, no real harm is done by wishing a driver a nice flight, a server an enjoyable meal, or a mother “good luck” in her delivery. However, please consider this: if one’s intention is to offer a nice thought, wish, or response, take at least a second to offer a considered, contextually-appropriate comment instead of mindlessly allowing your verbal auto-pilot to blurt out an automatic retort. The line may be intended to make you look good, but not thinking about your recipient’s situation only makes the sender seem thoughtless. If one is not going to put in the few seconds required to think about what they are about to say before saying it, perhaps they ought to say nothing at all.


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