“Calm Down”

In my native language there are concepts that lack corollary words, and words that inaccurately convey complex concepts. One such phrase is calm down (or relax or chill out), a phrase that has never yet achieved its intended result. I think the problem with this phrase is the chasm between its intended delivery and its perceived reception. Someone is upset or scared or in crisis, and their partner, friend, coworker says, “calm down.”

What is heard is, “this is nothing to get upset about at all” or “your fear is unfounded” or “what is important to you is not important to me.” And with that justification, the eruption that inevitably follows makes sense. But that is not always the intent of the phrase. In any situation there is a sense of urgency that is optimal to attack a problem. If you look up and a piano has fallen out of a 12th floor window and is about to hit you in the head, you can not gracefully and calmly walk out of the way. You need to (fucking) move. On a scale of 1-10, this calls for a 10.

If you start to feel a cold coming on, just the first sniffles, you can drive to the store, get some echinacea or NyQuil, get to bed early, drink some extra fluid. This might require a two or three level of urgency. We have all seen people in a situation best dealt with on one end of that scale, and yet, approached on the other end. It’s frustrating.

But language is limiting. And there doesn’t seem to be a a shorthand way to say to someone, “I agree, this situation is important and requires our attention and response. I think the best level to set our solve-o-meters at is six. Right now, you seem to be reacting with a nine (or a two). Perhaps if we reset to a more reasonable level we can solve the problem more efficiently.” What comes out instead is, “calm down”, not to a zero, not to a one, just a notch or two. There is not a phrase I know of to convey “just a couple notches less (or more) urgency.”

Do you know of one?

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