Find the difference #5: what you say vs. how you say it

I have been thinking about what has made discussions among me and others become heated, and most of the time it was not what people said, but how. Here are the two sentences I wish to compare:

  • You are not allowed to say that!


  • You are not allowed to say that this way! which could mean: You can say that, but the way you said it hurts me!

It makes me think a lot of parents and children. How many times I hear: “Don’t cry!” or “Don’t complain!” and I guess that it’s because seeing the suffering of others make us uncomfortable, at the point that we could prefer to silence it completely. There is a great article about this dynamic on, and a shorter post on The Badger’s Smial. But what happens when we try to silence the cries, and worse, when we succeed? The suffering person feels even worse: oppressed, unable to both deal with the issue and to get support. I (among many) noticed that children get increasingly upset when they feel that their message doesn’t get through, and with an immense sadness, that some children (and adults) stop communicating and are therefore considered “good” – just because they are quiet.

I find that if I were a parent, I would promise to listen to all messages my children send me, eventually suggesting to express them a way that makes it easier for me and other people to help, but in no way editing the original content.

A similar censoring reaction happens often also when people get aggressive during a discussion: it seems easier to stop fighting if the other party stops pushing its idea forward, while it could be that it’s a matter of how the idea is expressed, and if the atmosphere calls more for white/black outcomes, rather than mutual understanding. I am trying to practice this form of de-escalation with my friends: I notice how the most vibrant advocates of a given idea calm down when they understand that I am OK with them owning their idea, and I am focusing on the way it is expressed. I think it takes a lot of pressure away, because there are endless possibilities to improve the formulation of a message. It could make me look undecided, when compared with people who get heated when they feel that others don’t agree with them; but I don’t feel comfortable being so assertive. It is actually a reason I left OSGeo Board a few years ago, because I felt that I could not fight for my/our ideas, but it was expected from my role. Now I would come back to OSGeo with a new¬† awareness, that I can contribute, move things forward in this equally firm, but more understanding way.

About speaking many languages


Inspired by an hilarious post from MadameZou, I have been thinking on what it means to me to be able to express myself in more than one human language. It is obviously a plus when I am in a big city or at a conference and I can talk to people in a language they feel more comfortable with. I did this juggling more than once and I am quite proud of that, at a technical level.

On a deeper level, there are people with whom I can use two or more languages, so we usually end up using one language for a set of topics and the other(s) for other sets. It happened with a Canadian friend of mine, with whom I speak French when we discuss private stuff, and English for work-related topics and when others are around. I absolutely melt when we switch to French in public for a couple sentences. It is a mark of closeness that is so innocent, yet so profound.

Now that becomes interesting. That lead me to think if I was equally fluent in each language in each topic, and I ended up realising that I am not – even when I am alone, when I write, when I dream, each language allows me a different range of expression, like clothes can allow a different range of motion. Some are closer to me and I feel I can move naturally, others are like a heavy coat or trousers quite too big, shoes that don’t fit my feet. I feel like I am made of four personalities who overlap only partially. English almost perfectly fits my French and Italian, while my German is so hesitant and inaccurate that it is almost a bad copy of myself. I almost fear learning a new language because I would feel so unbearably blocked in my expression.

If I count music and movement among the languages I know, then there are even more interesting observations. I speak music like someone who knew it well at some point, then didn’t practice for a long time. A bit like a old dog which knew a lot of tricks, and when asked, tries with some difficulty to find the movements again, but even when he fails you can notice how skilled he was. With movement it is an open path, I am on the way, hesitantly, but progressing.

Edit and drawing streak preview: my languages as horses – red is Italian, green is English, light blue is French, black is German. The first three are more similar, German is a growing foal.