Let’s Stop “Just Saying”

by Matthew DeCapua

headacheA great deal of virtual ink has been spilled since the unfortunate events of Ferguson, MO began to play out across the mass media and some if it is tapping into a larger issue that has long irked me.

As a nation we are obsessed with being right. We like to be right all the time. For some reason we think this is a realistic ambition and we pursue it with zealous determination to the point where we’re having a difficult time hearing one another anymore.

Too often, whether we are aware of it or not, we interpret a willingness to establish an actual dialogue that involves both talking and listening as weakness, or worse, a failing. We’re not really interested in discussion or debate. We’re not open to the possibility of learning new information or changing our perspective due to a well-reasoned argument that had not previously occurred to us.

We just want to be right. So we speak our mind, repeatedly, giving no quarter, acknowledging no alternative, louder and more defensively, until the other person either admits defeat or walks away.

One of the more recent socio-linguistic mechanisms we have developed to support this “style” of non-discussion is to conclude an opinion with the passive-aggressive deployment of the phrase “just saying.”

And at great risk of offending a lot of people I know and love, as of this moment I am on record as writing that the phrase “just saying” makes me sick to my stomach.

Let’s break it down.

The first of the many heinous things that “just saying” accomplishes is to immediately end the conversation. It’s the verbal equivalent of a smug smirk while walking away. The speaker has just gained the final — and right — words on the subject, and now the matter is closed to any possibility of further discussion.

That’s rude.

The second mortal sin of “just saying” is the tacit implication that, because the speaker is expressing a personal opinion, the speaker cannot be questioned. Any attempt at refutation or even further discussion can now freely be interpreted as a hostile personal attack, and responded to in kind. Once the “just saying” bomb has been dropped, it’s no longer a conversation. It’s a fight.

This leads to the most damning offense of “just saying.” By claiming the topic as a deeply-held personal belief, the speaker is in effect communicating that whatever personal feelings anyone else may have on the subject are not only irrelevant but also inferior to the speaker’s. It’s the equivalent of saying “your opinion does not matter to me, but mine had better matter to you, and we’re done here now.”

We live in a time of incredible tumult and churn, and it is not going to end anytime soon. It seems to me, therefore, that it is in everyone’s best interests to look for ways to communicate more, not less. There are no end of horrible examples playing out in today’s headlines to demonstrate what happens when people no longer care enough to truly listen to one another.

Rather than cut you off with a “just saying,” I would always rather sit down and hear you out, and hope that you will be willing to do the same with me. So let’s drop “just saying” from our collective vocabulary and replace it with something far more positive and useful.

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