402: A Weird Way You Can Make Your World a Better Place

I’m sorry: I’m going to mess up a lot of the unscripted media you consume. No podcast or interview will ever be the same for you. I’m going to ruin some of your conversations with friends.

It’s only fair. They’ve been hijacked for me.

I first noticed it in one of my pastor’s sermons. Over and over again, he would make a point—on behalf of an absolute-truth type of God and a matter-of-fact Bible—by saying, kinda. For instance: “This is what God kinda wants.”

After noticing that, I started to hear this lack of commitment everywhere. In a recent discussion I heard about the scientific impetus behind Mars exploration—not frivolous banter—one of the commentators dropped, “kinda reconcile.”

She kinda set the tone.

He kinda underscored that point.

They kinda created.

That band kinda disappeared from view.

We kinda settled this.

This kinda exacerbates the problem.

The actor kinda exploded onto the scene.

This athlete kinda built a following.

The group kinda experienced a cultural moment.

Everywhere I turn now, things that can’t happen part way get couched in a word that means almost or somewhat. Maybe it’s the political climate, and we’re afraid to paint in black and white. Maybe we don’t want to speak for anyone else in certain terms. Maybe we just don’t want to fully commit to offending someone. Maybe we don’t fully believe what we’re saying, but we want to say something. After all, when news breaks, the compulsion to add to the social commentary is strong—even when we aren’t sure what to say.

Maybe all those possibilities are true. I don’t know. What I do know is that this was only the first level of the problem. After perking my ears for a while, I stumbled upon the full phenomenon. When people want to emphasize their points, they add really to kinda.

This team really kinda has to make a move in free agency.

My teacher really kinda confused me.

The protestors really kinda let it be known.

I kinda really want that new iPhone.

She really kinda hurt my feelings.

That kinda really annoys me.

My pastor, too: “I don’t know about you, but I really kinda struggle with this.”

I’m not disparaging my pastor. He’s as human in this as the rest of us. The really kinda epidemic has run rampant through professionally-produced podcasts and radio shows. Those being interviewed by reporters and the pundits around tables have also been infected. And it has utterly proliferated through my conversations with friends, too.

We so badly want to make a point, to take a stance; but we don’t fully commit to a pronouncement.

It’s only in unscripted speech, though. You don’t see this in press conference statements or teleprompter orations. You don’t hear this in documentary voiceovers or recorded music. If someone uses it on social media, it’s either in a live video or in a written punchline. For whatever reason—especially for Internet trolls—we tend to be more matter-of-fact when we type our declarations.

It’s at this point that I’d like to draw on the sage advice of Yoda from Star Wars: “Try not. Do. Or not do. There is no try.”

We need to know why we assert what we’re saying—or not say it. If we don’t know something for sure, we’re better off saying, “Correct me, if I’m wrong; but it appears that [statement],” or “From what I’ve gathered, it seems that [statement].” I’ve gotten into the habit of saying, “I can’t speak to that,” “from what I’ve seen, I would assume that to be true,” or “I don’t know enough to comment on that,” or even just “I don’t know.”

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Now that you will inconveniently recognize all of this, though, you can influence change. You can hold people accountable. “Is it really or kinda? Because you can’t have both.” (I actually ask this.) You can watch for it in your own vocal clutter. You can slow down enough when answering a question to think through a response or reply, “That’s a good question. Let me think about that and get back to you.”

This isn’t a grammar Nazi thing. You’re giving yourself and others freedom to say what is meant, grace to have thought it before it was spoken, and permission to still be forming opinions. When we speak only what is kind and proven and considerate—without resorting to really kinda—we bring civility to discourse. We make our words more valuable and our ideas more contagious.

Isn’t that really kinda why we’re telling people our opinions in the first place?

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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