A long time ago, I helped a greeting card company make an interactive website so that people could build their holiday cards online. There were different types of cards offered as e-cards, and many that could be sent directly from the site to someone’s home. Like most card companies, we divided these by topic– happy birthday, grief, love, for grandpa, merry christmas, congrats, etc.
The card company was a small one, but had been around for a very long time and they had accumulated books of research on their industry. I read through it all to maximize the efficiency of the site.
One thing that struck me as odd was the need most people have for finding the exactly right phrase to use with their holiday cards. One word could make or break a sale. Families are particular about the way their give their end-of-year greetings and, on a website where one can find and replace the message, will change it out dozens of times before deciding.
At face value, that’s not strange at all. It only gets weird when you realize that same user goes with the stock card option for grief and get well cards– two topics that are far more delicate and memorable.
I asked the woman in charge why she thought it played out that way– if perhaps condolence cards were simply obligatory offerings. She didn’t think so. She believed that grief and get well cards were the most meaningful items she produced because they were something someone bought for someone who could only be bettered by thoughts and hope, and maybe even a miracle. It was sending a thought, a thought that contained hope. A hope that could birth a miracle. She believed that people didn’t mess with the default expressions because they were afraid to say the wrong thing, and they preferred to rest on the experts.
In May of 2014, I went to jail where I spent 438 days. In May of 2015, while I was still in prison, my husband died. I’ve received my share of condolences. Many that manifested in card form, and many that rested on experts. Many said straight out to me, “I don’t know the right thing to say”, or “I am afraid to say the wrong thing.”
I think often times, fear causes inaction. It freezes us. When we are unfrozen by love or hope or positive things, we move. We research. We create solutions.
If you didn’t know the right thing to say in your Christmas card, you would find it. You would spend twenty minutes trying on different expressions. You would search engine, “Least offensive Christmas Card Messages”, or “Best Christmas Messages for Holiday Cards to your Boss”, or whatever. You would study.
I think we forget that triumph and tragedy are two sides of the very same coin. If we put as much time researching condolences as we do celebrations, we would know the right things to say, and the things to not say at all.
Even a baby step pushes you forward. Even a little a study makes the whole world smarter.
Take 10 minutes today. Research the best thing to say to someone with chronic depression who is suffering through another dip. Find the words to give a friend who is grieving. Think of the message you’d want to express when someone is ill and might not recuperate. Think of the one for the hiccup.
Don’t hide from the hard stuff because the hard stuff doesn’t hide from us. You’ll have to face it one day, in some form or another, so you might as well be ready. Be strong. Be studied. Have a collection of thoughts in your arsenal of hope.
The wrong words only take down the unprepared.