SALT LAKE CITY — Being a lifelong student of human behavior, I was curious about why we shout "jerk" (or something worse) when someone cuts us off in traffic, even though they can’t hear us. Why do we scold ourselves about a mistake even when no one is around to hear it? If you walk into a room and realize you forgot something, why might you say out loud, "Oh shoot, I forgot to get the widget, darn it"?
Why do we find the need to say these kinds of things out loud and narrate why we are behaving as we are?
In one of his books, Aaron James, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Irivne, says you can lash out at people and use words like "aha, bleh, eeww, goody, humph, oh, oops, phew, whee, yikes, or yuck" to narrate your experiences, but it might serve you to understand why. There is a payoff you get by vocalizing your experiences and emotions, and I call it the self-elucidation payoff.
What does elucidate mean?
The word "elucidate" comes from the Latin word "lucid" which descends from the verb lucēre, meaning "to shine." So, elucidation is about shining some light on something to clarify or explain it. Self-elucidation is clarifying the situation you are having because you deserve to be acknowledged or understood in it, even just for or by yourself.
James says a person who knocks over a glass might be a klutz, but if he says whoops, then at least he knows he didn’t intend the outcome and didn’t do it intentionally. This is our way of clarifying or elucidating that we aren’t a clumsy or careless person. We are just having an unintentional experience that should not be a reflection of who we are as a person.
The funny part is we need this so badly we even do it when we are alone. We need our experiences to be acknowledged because it validates our worth and makes us feel safer.
... yelling at the driver who cuts you off (even though he doesn’t hear you) is elucidating the situation and basically defending yourself by announcing to the world (and yourself) that 'it was not right to treat me that way.' This validates your worth and makes you feel a bit safer.
For example, yelling at the driver who cuts you off (even though he doesn’t hear you) is elucidating the situation and basically defending yourself by announcing to the world (and yourself) that "it was not right to treat me that way." This validates your worth and makes you feel a bit safer.
There is nothing wrong nor necessary about doing this, but it could be an interesting practice to allow yourself to have experiences without the need for clarification. Instead you could just sit with the experience and notice why it feels unsafe without some vocal elucidation.
What would not clarifying this moment out loud give you? If you let go of the need to elucidate this, what could that teach you? Does it matter how you respond?
The benefits of not talking
Years ago I attended a meditation retreat that included 10 days of total silence. There were incredible lessons that came from not talking for 10 full days. The most profound thing I learned was that 90% of what I wished I could say was simply explaining my behavior. It was frustrating to not be able to elucidate, avoid judgment, explain my intentions, or validate myself. Instead, I had to allow people to think whatever they were going to think, risk being misperceived, and practice knowing I was safe without clarification.
This experience gave me a different level of love and compassion for myself. I highly recommend trying it.
It may also serve you to think about why you say things like this:
It can also be a way to project responsibility away from yourself, which also makes you feel safer. The reality is that you didn’t watch where you were walking, you weren’t careful about spilling, and you were careless when you dropped the glass. You were responsible for all of these experiences, but saying “oops” is your way of saying, "I didn’t intend to be careless, so the experience is not my fault." You subconsciously want to believe this was bad luck so that it doesn’t diminish your value.
What might serve you more?
What if you owned responsibility for all your experiences and saw each as a perfect lesson that was there to bless you in some way. You could choose to trust that every experience happens to educate you and help you grow, so there is no lack or deprivation.
Instead of swearing at the person who cut you off, you might just acknowledge that you do deserve better treatment — but without a fear-driven need to attack the other human involved. This would validate your worth and rights, and it would be a love-motivated response instead of hate-motivated one.
Try having compassion for yourself the next time you spill on your shirt, but see if you can have the experience without explaining or scolding yourself out loud. You don’t need sympathy around this because this is your perfect classroom journey. Expressing compassion and love for yourself is all the self-elucidation you need. Your value is infinite and unchangeable no matter what you experience, and you are always safe — or at least you can choose this perspective if you want to.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.