Does This Sound Good To You?


Certain words are pleasing to the ear. One of these words is free. That is why you hear the word free used so often in marketing.

In fact, “free” is more popular than “no money down,” which sounds like it means the same thing—until the polite men come to take away your new furniture and your credit rating.

Another phrase that sounds similar is “no charge.” But in modern usage, “no charge” means “Please don’t sue me,” as in the sentence, “Mr Peckham, there will be no charge for your haircut today. Would you like us to pack this piece of your ear in ice before you go?”

It’s also pleasing to hear someone say “thank you” (though I consider it a failure of the English language that the same expression applies whether I donate a litre of blood or hand you a tissue).

Flattery also sounds good. But not to everyone. My ancestors are Midwestern American farmers who have always been startled and confused by compliments. We generally believe that if someone has something nice to say about us, they must not be in possession of all the facts. That’s why if you compliment a Midwesterner on her shoes, she will take you into a side room and explain that they were really a gift from her daughter in the city and that she herself would never spend more than $12 on a pair if it were up to her. And by the way, here’s an affidavit from several leaders in the fashion industry certifying that she really does have the worst possible taste when it comes to shoes.

So flattery may or may not be welcome.

What is always welcome is hearing an admission that you were right.

Just being right is not enough—that provides all the satisfaction of a fat-free potato chip. We want to hear someone say out loud, “You’re right. I was wrong in this matter, but you are absolutely and completely right. I wish that in future I could have as perceptive a grasp of the situation as yourself.” If this speech could be preceded by heraldic trumpets to draw the attention of bystanders, so much the better.

On those occasions when my wife and I disagree, I have this fantasy that she will come to me in contrition and admit the surpassing wisdom of my position. “You were right,” she might say. “I see now that the best way to teach our son to ride a bicycle is to give him a shove down our steep gravel driveway.” Perhaps she will bring a small gift to atone for troubling me with her arguments and her contrary attitude. Something with headphones would be nice.

But this doesn’t happen. Instead, I hear about the times when I am wrong.

Nobody wants to hear about when they are wrong. I sympathise with my friend Tony. There was a time when he could never back out of the driveway without his wife complaining that he was going to hit the letterbox. This constant condemnation of his driving ability began to grate on Tony’s nerves. Finally he told his spouse that he didn’t want to hear about the letterbox again. He knew where it was, and he had the necessary skills to avoid it. His wife was obedient the next day and sat in perfect silence as Tony backed smack into the letterbox.

It sounds good when people agree with us and applaud our point of view.

But we must remember that it is the sign of true friends and true prophets that they speak up when we get off track.

If you think I’m right about this, I’d like to hear from you. You may start speaking immediately after the sound of the trumpets.

Reprinted with permission from Women of Spirit.

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