The grocery store checker packed up my groceries, took my check, gave me my receipt and wished me a “good afternoon.” I reciprocated with, “You, too!” I signed a congratulatory card for a friend who was graduating from high school and wrote, “Best wishes in the future.” Frequently the first words of any North Dakota conversation begins with, “Cold enough for ya?” or “Wet enough for ya?” “Done farming?”

Facebook is littered daily with “support our troops,” “post if you know someone who…,” “prayers.” Political slogans ask that we “make America great again,” mention “freedom,” the flag, motherhood and apple pie.

Many of the words we use daily seem to really mean nothing. Certainly political ads and slogans are meant to elicit an emotional response. They are not intended to inform anyone of the details needed to make complex decisions. “Make America great again,” on the surface sounds really good. Of course, I want America to be great, but in what way and for whom? Is a great America a great military power? Is it a great country where everyone is “created equal?” Does it mean we are free? Does freedom mean I can do whatever I want, to whomever I want? Does it mean freedom from want, freedom from government interference, freedom from discrimination, or individual freedom without regard to the common good? If a politician says they want America to be great again, what age in our history are they suggesting we return to? Should we return to the government and policies of 1776 when we became a nation and the population was around 2.5 million people and there were thirteen colonies instead of 50 states and 310 million people? Should we go back to the pre Civil War America and allow slavery? Perhaps we should return to the early 1900’s when the middle class barely existed and most people were poor and exploited by the very wealthy. No one suggests we return to the 1930’s. No one wants to revisit the era of World War I or World War II. The world and our country are vastly different than any time in the past and we can’t go back. Of course, there are some things lost along the way that we would have done well to hang on to. Simply stating one wants to make things “great” again doesn’t define those good things. Without definition and specifics, such a statement means very little.

Politicians, however, are not the only ones who use words that sound good, but really have no meaning. I wonder what I mean when I say to the grocery store checker, “Have a good day?” I really don’t know anything about her day. I don’t know how many part-time jobs she works to make ends meet. I don’t know how many other customers have been crabby with her or rude to her. I’m not even sure I haven’t been critical when she’s rung something up wrong. Besides saying the almost automatic words wishing her a nice day, have I acted kindly, been polite and perhaps even complimentary to her? When she’s done a good job packing my groceries so my strawberries aren’t under the sack of flour, have I made sure she knew I noticed her efforts or do I only comment on her job performance when she’s messed up?

I was wondering what I should write on the inside of a sympathy card for a friend whose spouse had recently died. I know that whatever one writes on such a card, it doesn’t alleviate anyone’s pain. Our best efforts to be comforting at best will not make someone feel worse. If I write, “My thoughts and prayers are with you,” or, “My deepest sympathy,” what does that mean? If I think about my friend and I even actually mention them in my daily prayers, is that enough? Since the card was for a friend and not a casual acquaintance, are my thinking and my praying enough? If I’m afraid to give her a hug or to stop to see her or hesitant to talk to her about what she is feeling, what difference does it make what caring words I write inside a pretty greeting card?

In signing a note to one of my children, I quickly jotted a routine, “Love, Mom.” Then I wondered it I had used that closing so many times that it really didn’t mean anything. Instead, I typed, “I love you, Mom.” I wondered if such a direct statement of my emotions might be too much. Would my kids wonder if something was wrong? Was I being overly emotional? Why the difference caused by just two more words?

Yes, what we say is important. Our rudeness or short tempered response can put a cloud over someone else’s day. Our praise for a job well done can make someone feel appreciated and change how that person feels about their job. We need to treat others in a way that actually helps them “have a good day.”  Adding the pronouns “I” and “you” to our profession of love makes our words more real and personal.

More, however, than just saying the right words are our actions and what we do. Just saying someone is in our thoughts and prayers isn’t enough, The words must be followed up with action. We must actually pray and then we need to act on those thoughts and prayers.

Copyright © 2016 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains