How often do you mean what you say?

When you say, “I’ll be there,” how many times do you turn up? When you say, “Let’s grab a meal together soon,” how many times do you actually send a message, arrange a time and place and eat together?

Are we too polite to say no? Are we too meek to say no? Since when has “I’ll be there” become a polite way to turn someone down, to wiggle out of circumstances where we are too afraid to say, “No?" Since when has “Let’s grab a meal together soon” become a convenient conversation ender? 

I am sometimes shocked at how my speech has been altered by the culture at Penn after just over a year. Another tendency of this place is to launch into a barrage of praise and superlatives about almost everything. We say our friends are “the most amazing, smart, beautiful, gorgeous” people ever, that our dinner was “literally the most awesome thing we ate” and when someone — merely — does something right, we tell them that they are “doing amazing.” When someone mentions a friend we know, we exclaim, “Oh my gosh, Annie? I love her!” Suddenly, an acquaintance is a friend, a friend is a good friend and a good friend is a “best friend.”

I have learned to calibrate the scales in my head, to figure out what people actually mean. When someone says that you are “literally amazing,” most of the time they mean, “You are a decent human being.” When someone says, “I think the idea’s amazing,” most of the time they mean “hmm, we should consider that”. We are not all surrounded by “literal geniuses,” “brilliant ideas” and “literally the most amazing people” all the time here at Penn, and that’s (perfectly) OK.

Superlatives, in excess, dilute the meaning of words, warp the reality of the relationship and simply leaves in its wake, either a group of confused people with raised expectations, or a group of cynical people second guessing and “dumbing down” all that is said. Superlatives are not cheap — they are meant to highlight and speak of something in its highest degree and quality, so let’s not throw them around so carelessly.

Old habits die hard and we also often parrot the way other people talk, but I think it will make a bit of difference if we all tried to “say what we mean, and mean what we say.” This campus would be a bit happier if we were all a little more genuine and a little more sincere.

So this is my resolution for the year:

When I say “I’m going” — either in person or on Facebook (most likely the latter because that’s just the way things are now) — I want you to know that I truly will be there, and not falling on a convenient phrase to wiggle out of something.

When I say, “You are amazing,” I don’t want you to have to second guess me. I want you to know I think you are different, set apart from the rest and that you inspire me. 

When I say, “You are the kindest,” I want you to know that your thoughtfulness gives me hope, your compassion carries me through bad days and that the world feels a little brighter and lighter with your presence.

When I say, “That was an amazing idea,” I want you to know that what you said truly had me thinking, and I want to hear more.

When I say, “Let’s grab a meal together,” I want you to know that I am genuinely interested in knowing you, and that we will find a place to meet and talk.

When I say, “I’m sorry,” I want you to know that I truly tried my very best, made every effort, but fell short. 

When I say, “I missed you,” I want you to know that I truly felt your absence when I saw the empty chair at the meeting, saw something on TV that reminded me of you and that I feel a little bit more complete now that I’m reunited with you.

When I say “love," I say it in full knowledge that “love” is not “like.” “Love” carries more weight, more fervor, perhaps more expectation.

I refuse to dress my words up anymore, or play mind games with words. I want my words to be true.

SARA MERICAN is a College sophomore from Singapore. Her email address is smerican@sas.upenn.edu. “Merican in America” usually appears every Monday.

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