"I Don't Know. I Haven't Done It."
Once, during 10th grade math class, I was called on to answer a question, one that was based on the prior night's homework.
Homework that I hadn't done.
My answer was instinctual. “I don’t know. I haven’t done it.”
The teacher looked at me quizzically and asked, “Well, which one is it?"
"Which one is it? You don’t know? Or you haven’t done it?”
I thought for a second, understood and then responded more accurately:
"I haven't done it."
I understood, in that moment, the point(s) of her question.
The fact that I hadn’t done the assignment didn’t necessarily mean that I didn’t know the content. It just meant that I hadn't done the work - and that I should be clear about understanding that, and communicating it. No excuses. Own it.
It was also, more subtly, drawing a clear distinction between whether I was capable versus whether I'd made the effort. By my interpretation at least, she wanted me to understand what I was actually saying: that I was capable, while drawing attention to the fact that I hadn't made the requisite effort (as I should have).
It was one of those small, but timeless lessons. That clarity in our communications is essential, and it plays through in so many aspects of our lives.
From what we say to others: we're often too casual in our communications. We don't say what we mean, or we don't say what we want. And then we become upset when our true view isn't heard or understood. But it's our own fault. It's because we brushed off the situation with a casual remark, because we weren't thinking, or because we didn't want to create any sort of conflict.
To what we say to ourselves: this is infinitely more critical. Our self-talk determines so much about how we think and act, how we perceive ourselves and what we believe about ourselves. Yet we're remarkably casual in how we speak to ourselves. We constantly just "say", as opposed to speak with intent. And it makes a difference. Even the most hardened rocks will be broken down by a steady rain.
So, I've tried to remember that lesson over the years. Not always successfully, of course, because there have been plenty of times when I've forgotten it.
But I keep trying. And that's the point.
Be clear. Be conscious.Be thoughtful.