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Wag More – Bark Less

By Merrill Ogden - | Oct 6, 2021

Some people have quotes or sayings as “signatures” for their emails. I noticed one on an e-mail I received some time back that has stuck with me. It read, “Wag More – Bark Less.” It was attributed to that very prolific writer, “Anonymous.”

This reminded me of an old Swedish proverb. Legendary Utah State University and pro football great, Merlin Olsen, quoted the proverb at my oldest son’s graduation from USU years ago. I looked it up to get it right. “Fear less, Hope more. Eat less, Chew more. Whine less, Dream more. Talk less, Say more. Love more, and all good things will be yours.”

When President H.W. Bush accepted the nomination to be the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in 1988, he said, “I want a kinder, gentler nation.” How we speak to each other is a big part of kindness and gentleness.

Some of you Sanpeters knew Ivo Peterson. He passed away about a year and a half ago. He taught at Snow College, was a Justice Court judge, and was involved in theatre. He directed the Manti Pageant for a number of years. He was a “shirt-tail relative” of mine and we were friends.

Ivo used the word “interesting” all the time. Here are examples of sentences you might hear him say. “It’s interesting Merrill, that you haven’t changed your hairstyle since high school.” “I heard some interesting news, “Bob” in our neighborhood, abandoned his wife and children and has flown overseas to meet up with his internet girlfriend and has no intention of returning.” “It’s interesting to me that people borrow my tools and never return them.”

He was a master at using euphemistic language. A euphemism according to my trusty Random House College Edition dictionary is: “the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.” So, when my friend said, “He’s an interesting person,” what he really might be saying is, “That guy is a total, lousy jerk.”

There’s a place for cushioning our speech in life. It seems better to say, “When did your husband pass away?” – rather than, “When did the old geezer croak?” Reality needs softening in many of our conversations.

I’ve noticed that many businesses use euphemisms in their advertising. The classic is in real estate sales. You know if a home is advertised as a “fixer upper” or a “handyman’s dream” that the home is a bombed-out shell of a house.

I’ve been told that I beat around the bush too much. Apparently, I sugarcoat things to the point of people not understanding what I’m trying to communicate. But at the same time, I believe, there are up sides to my euphemistic speech.

A church leader once told a friend of mine that he wished that he could talk to people the way that I did. The bishop told my friend, “Merrill can tell people to go to hell and have them glad to be on their way. I don’t know whether that’s the truth or not. But, I do know, that sometimes there are people that I’m happy to have be on their way to somewhere – anywhere. I guess I need to find a happy medium.

Experts say that much of our message in communication is conveyed by non-verbal communication. Our posture, our eye contact or lack thereof, our voice inflections and many other things give messages. It’s true that it is often not what you say, but how you say it.

I remember staying at a quaint, relatively inexpensive motel (okay, it might have been a dump), which demonstrated what I’m talking about. Upon check-in, I was given the room key cards in a paper folder. On the back of the folder was this message: “The other day, our towels told us that some of them were being kidnapped and taken to faraway places. So, we adopted new ones, and now everyone is happy again. You wouldn’t want to break up a new family, would you? If you decide to adopt some of our new family, you will be billed.”

That, I believe, is a good example of euphemistic communication. It was clever and got the point across without being offensive. We need more of that kind of communication.

However, I know that there are some people who don’t understand anything but “straight talk.” Some people won’t read or understand a cute story about motel towels. They need a simple, large font sign that says, “Don’t steal our towels or we’ll call the cops on you.”

Raising kids is a constant juggling act of trying to find the right mode of communication. Sometimes they need the absolute clarity of undiluted, un-cushioned straight talk. “If you don’t vacuum the living room and get your laundry folded and put away by 6:00 P.M. – you will absolutely not be allowed to go to the movies with your friends tonight.”

Other times, a kid grows and learns by thinking that doing what you want them to do is self initiated. “Hey kids, I’m hoping we can have the house looking good before our company arrives tomorrow night.” (Would that ever work? Who knows?)

Communication is one of the world’s biggest problems. There’s a lot of work to be done to become kinder and gentler in our interactions with those around us.

If only “The Golden Rule” was universally respected. We’d all treat each other the way we’d like to be treated. The world would be a much better place. I hope to do better.

This has been an interesting column. Don’t you agree? — Merrill


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