I’m sensitive to the way things are said.

Thought I’d share a perfect example of what used to set me off. I came across it in my apartment’s compactor room, where our trash and recyclables are disposed. There’s a large garbage pail with a liner for our empties. My practice is to hang a grocery bag (usually plastic giving them one more job to do before tossing) on the doorknob of my pantry closet and add my empties–kombucha bottles, almond milk cartons, etc.–during the week.

When it’s full, I dump the whole thing into the provided bin. Since a recent Trader Joe’s trip, I’ve been using their brown paper bags to gather my recyclables, then depositing them all together. When I read this note, I realized that it would be just as easy to pour out the jars, bottles, cans, and cartons, fold up the paper bag, and insert it into the “mixed paper” bin our apartment house provides. I’m happy to comply.

But first I noticed how shaming the notice was.* Did you get it the first time you read it? It’s the “why” and all those question marks at the end. A much kinder way to get across the same message might have been: Please separate your paper bag from the other recyclables to allow more room for others. Thanks.

I would have been just as compliant and felt less like I’d been lectured. Today I immediately recognize the affront and move on from someone else’s need to be shaming. By sharing it with you, I hope to help shed light on words like these. Why do I bring this up? Because throughout our days we’re bombarded with messages, similar to this, which we tolerate, but tuck away as small indignities. You recognize the behavior. Wikipedia sums it up thus: This domino effect can also be seen in family dynamics, where the father yells at the mother who yells at the older child who yells at the younger child who yells at the pet.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don’t say it mean.

*In case you’re unable to enlarge the photo, here’s what it says: Why go through the process of separating plastics from the rest of your trash and throw the plastics into the plastic bin with the paper bag the plastics are in, when the paper bin is a foot away????

Share This