The Space Between What We Say And What We Hear

by Grace Bonney

If there is one thing I’ve learned from 12 years of talking and living online, it’s that no matter how hard I try, and despite my best intentions, what I write can and will often be received and interpreted differently than I intended.

Words can be an imperfect tool to communicate our feelings and lately I’ve become incredibly aware of, and sensitive to, the gap between what I say and how it’s interpreted. In that space between what I mean and how it affects someone reading, there is so much room for misunderstanding, hurt and distancing. And there is nothing I want more than for all of our words to bring each other closer together, closer to understanding and toward a greater connection with everyone in our community.

That space between words and their interpretation offers so much potential for disconnection, but it also offers the potential for real understanding and change. I’ve been guilty of ignoring that space and thankfully many of you have been patient and kind enough to email me when I use words or express myself in a way that makes you feel unwelcome, unrecognized or disrespected. Whether that language is ableist, sexist, appropriative or judgmental, hearing your reactions has been an incredibly valuable tool in learning to choose my words more carefully.

A few days after the murders in Orlando, I saw someone on a food blog mention how they could “murder a hamburger.” I bristled at the word choice and felt a deep twinge of pain when I interpreted that wording as insensitive to the LGBT community, a community I am a part of and one that was deep in mourning. Then this week, after the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five Dallas police officers, I saw several people speak about flowers on Instagram, saying they, “would kill for those” or that they were “dying” over the arrangement. It was a personal turning point for me when I realized how big that gap can be between the intention of a causal comment, meant to express dramatic love of something lighthearted, and the effect it can have on someone grieving or dealing with a great loss.

We are all prone to hyperbole online. Including myself. Perhaps it’s the pervasiveness of click-bait culture, but I’ve realized that it’s all too easy and common for me to abbreviate and exaggerate my feelings in a way that can distort the true value of life. I care deeply about the people in our community and want all of us to feel equally heard, respected and connected. Here at Design*Sponge, I will be continue to actively pay close attention to the words I use and be mindful of their impact. Rather than a simple promise, I hope this can be the beginning of a conversation. What are some of the ways you have felt the distance between the intention of a statement and its reception? What are some of the words and phrases you’re sensitive to and/or trying to not use? What is something that you’ve said that you wish you said differently? Please tell me. I am listening. —Grace

Photo above by Allan Peters from #dslettering

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  • Hi! This is such an amazing post. I agree that social media and the hyperbole it brings out in our language use can be disorienting. If “liking” is expected, then it only makes sense to equate “love” or “obsession” with the next rung up, simultaneously devaluing their original meanings while making the image, video, or article we’re admiring TOO perfect and unattainable. And don’t even get me started on how we’ve essentially flipped the meanings of words like “destroy,” “demolish,” and “hoard” to make a point about consumerism rather than consider ways to moderate consumption.

    Words associated with mental illness definitely bother me. For example, lots of friends casually toss around the phrase “depressing” or “I’m so depressed,” while others don’t realize that being cutesy about OCD and being “slow” can certainly perpetuate negative stigmas of our fellow humans with unique intellectual and physical needs.

  • A close friend of mine committed suicide last year, and I shocked myself by continuing to use ridiculously hyperbolic statements like “Kill me now” or “[XYZ trivial thing] makes me want to die.” I was so upset to hear these things come of my mouth out of habit, because they now had a real-life context for me. And I realized how much I may have hurt others over the years saying such things in an offhand way. So I’m working on those phrases.

  • Context is important. Many silly turns of phrase are not meant to be hurtful or disrespectful. Somebody talking about food or flowers isn’t speaking in the context of the horrors that have recently happened and I think I would cut them slack. We have long used expressions like “I’d give my right arm,” which supposedly dates to the 1600s.
    All that said, good writing doesn’t use hyperbole.

    • Taste of France

      Just because those phrases aren’t being used on posts directly about any of the murders of the past week doesn’t mean they’re not being read by people who are still deep in grieving over those losses or people who feel they are unsafe in America because of the color of their skin or who they are. For those people (and a lot of us) there is no moment to escape the context of feeling threatened and unsafe. So “context” is tricky here.

      My goal here was to express that “slack” in the form of creating a dialogue, rather than censoring anyone’s dialogue. As I said above, I don’t think anyone’s intentions are to hurt people’s feelings, but the point of this piece is to point out the very real difference between what you intend and how people receive things. If we ignore that gap, we ignore a lot of people’s feelings and realities.


      • Being tone – deaf is akin to the very disengagement that has caused so much violence in our communities. It may not cause bodily harm, but the injury to our souls affords indifference a welcoming incubator. Keep on keepin’ on, Grace. Your presence is much needed in the Blogosphere.

  • Thanks so much for this, Grace. People often think choosing your words careful is some kind of censorship when it isn’t at all. The first time I noticed what you wrote about here is right after my mom passed away. I was reading a blog, a blog devoted to health and happiness and I realized the author kept using phrases like “it kills me” and “I could just die”. Each time it would make my heart jump. I learned after losing my mom that death isn’t something to take lightly. Since then, I’ve been careful about how I speak and I appreciate other people doing the same.

  • Thank you for this thoughtful post, Grace. My friends and I have noted over the last several years the deeply ingrained ways in which we all speak about guns, often unknowingly— from being “under the gun” of a deadline to “shooting from the hip” to “sweating bullets.” Obviously, almost every person who uses those phrases does so unknowingly or at least unthinkingly— but I still think it tells us a lot about what we allow to become commonplace and mundane versus what our culture considers offensive. I’m trying to be more considerate in my speech by reflecting on the idea that there are others for whom those words are far less abstract.

  • There is always a tragedy happening somewhere. I live in another country and am aware of the news in the US and was totally shocked and saddened by all the events that have been happening lately and am not belittling any of these events. But unless hyperbolic phrases are eradicated from the English language, it’s likely that there’ll be somebody somewhere who will be hurt by something posted on social media.

  • I gain more and more respect for you all the time…thank you for this.

    As an urban secondary teacher, I think about the words I use every day. If I don’t know what a young person is going through personally (homelessness, loss of a family member), I have to be very careful when negotiating communication. Sometimes I have to apologize when something that I didn’t intend to be hurtful, results in hurt.

    Words are powerful. And we are veering dangerously close, as a culture, to allowing people who use words carelessly and harmfully to have power and influence.

    • i want to preface this by saying a huge thank you for the work you do – how do people not understand how important teachers are – and for the way you are doing the work by being so thoughtful of the conditions of your students’ lives. but i have to say “urban” as it is used in the US is definitely one of those words for me. i think because of the ways it makes poverty and Blackness synonyms and then hides them away. to borrow grace’s great phrasing i totally don’t think that’s what you meant to say, but unfortunately it’s what i hear.

  • Oh my goodness. This is a conversation with having. Admittedly, I catch myself using terms like “nuts” and “crazy” about 100 times a day. Which is a problem especially because years ago I mentioned to a new aquaintence that I worked in “Crazytown. How about you?” And she replied, “A live-in children’s mental health facility.” And I just about crawled in a hole. (-no offense to people currently living in holes.) So yeah. I try to be sensitive to mental health terms, but sometimes good intentions don’t cut it. Working on it.

    Here is one that bugs me in a big way: “The poor.” And “The elderly.” Etc. Just say poor people. Or old people. Or low-income people. Or elderly folks. Or whatever. No reason for the “the.” You would never hear a news anchor say “The blacks” or “the jews” but somehow “helping the poor” is a daily mention. Is it offensive? Not really. But somehow the addition of an extra article insinuates there are parameters on the group that qualify it as separate. When you are living below the poverty line it doesn’t feel good to know people think of you as a sub-segment of society. Also, it undercuts the credibility of the speaker/writer as not having experienced those things. I say we ditch it.

    That’s where I stand. I’m sure some folks will be offended at the concept of now being deemed offensive for everyday language. But perhaps that is why they call them growing pains – Sometimes they hurt.

    Good discussion as always, Grace. :)

  • Thanks for the post, Grace. I admit that I can be very judgmental and unforgiving when people casually throw around mental health terms, especially when it feels like most people are very misinformed or just uninterested in how catastrophic mental health issues can be. It really stings when people say absurd statements like, “I’m so schizophrenic today!” If people could only understand how my brother’s mind tortured him until he died, I doubt they would say things like that. Also, on a teaching blog, I read the title of a post about how to avoid hoarding in the classroom. The author mentioned the TV show, Hoarders, in the post. I was furious that a teacher could be so insentivive and use people with untreated mental health conditions as a comparison to collecting too many markers in a classroom. I understand that it wasn’t meant to be hurtful, but that’s it’s necessary to be aware of the challenges that others need to face in order to live.

  • Thank you for this conversation! My son has obsessive compulsive disorder and I am saddened every time I hear someone say they’re “ocd” because they are tidy or particular. That casualness feels disrespectful to the heartbreaking struggles we have in our family.

  • I love (word used with full intention) that there are people like you who would even think to write the post you did. There is hope for all of us. It is awash in kindness, a trait that seems to be disappearing. Thank you.

  • “It’s time to crack the homework whip.” I have used this silly phrase to indicate that I have to get home or hang up the phone at the time my kids do their homework. I recently said it to an African American friend and she gave me a kind of funny look. I suddenly heard it in a slave-driving context and felt like just the biggest a-hole in the world.

    Not as bad: I recently told a gay friend that he was the best dad ever. Totally nice thing to say except. . .did he think I was comparing him as a dad to his husband? It just felt very awkward after I said it even though I don’t think my friend took offense.

    So, yeah, hyperbole is a crime against humanity. ;-)

    • Beth

      I think hyperbole has a place in the world but agree that that sort of exaggeration can also lead to an (usually unintended) negative reaction. I have a hard time not falling into it all the time, but am trying to work hard to think of other ways to express myself without using words that I know will cause other people to feel left out or hurt. It takes a little bit of extra work and I know some people find that really frustrating or unnecessary, but I really value being able to have the other person listening or reading feel like they’re being heard and respected. Glad to hear you feel the same way.

      I still hear kids say, “That’s so gay” and it makes me so upset. I didn’t realize people still say that. I guess I still hear it in movies, too. Such a bummer.


  • I so appreciate this. Thank you. Our family lost someone to suicide a couple years ago and I can’t tell you how often (sometimes multiple times a day) people use the “makes me want to kill myself” “makes me want to die” “makes me want to shoot myself” phrases or mime shooting themselves in the head. I think we have to be more mindful of how we talk about mental health terms in general too. As others have said here, the casual throwing around of “bipolar, OCD, schizophrenic” is so harmful.

    • I lost someone to suicide a few years ago too and I have realized how prevalent and hurtful those statements are to those of us left behind. I also dislike how the media will refer to a person who dies by suicide as “a suicide” instead of as a person who died by suicide. It’s dehumanizing and reduces a life to one action. I’m surprised and disappointed that it is still acceptable. Thank you to Grace for giving us the opportunity to learn from each other and support each other’s humanity.

  • Yes. Thanks for this thoughtful post. I kept seeing the comment, “I die” or just the word “dead” all over social media when my friend Sarah was battling breast cancer & it made me so angry because she was literally dying. It felt (and still feels) so insensitive. There are better words to use.

  • Lately, I’ve been trying to stop using idioms until I know the origin of those idioms. Some of them are sexist and racist and I have used them in ignorance. Awareness and knowledge is the only way to self correct.

  • I really appreciate this post, and I want to add that I think it’s just as important to acknowledge our own emotional space as the reader or listener. Given that the internet is engaging millions of readers across the globe at any given time, it is difficult as the writer to hold space for all the trauma and triggers that are occurring in everyone’s hearts and heads at any moment in time. When we know a subject or expression is sensitive to us as readers, it is part of the communication give and take to also give the writers some room because they may not be in the same emotional space and do not intend to be hurtful. Their language might not even mean that they aren’t hurting or feeling, it might just be that they’re not registering or expressing the pain in the same way as the reader. This is not to excuse the responsibility of the writer, I just mean that as humans beings desiring connection, we will bump into each other sometimes in our work to understand each other. We can’t all hold the heavy spaces all the time, and in some ways I think that might be a good thing. As another commenter posted, there is tragedy happening somewhere in the world all the time. Does that make us insensitive for thinking about sofas and paint colors? Yes and no. I wrestle with this all the time. I can say that the color it makes me think of is gray, and how many shades there are to this discussion and what it means to be a responsible, compassionate human being. Sorry, that was so corny and cliche.

  • Grace, this is one of the most beautiful and sensitive posts I’ve read in a long time, from anyone, and I appreciate so much that you want to be as respectful and inclusive as possible. The truth is, not everyone’s thoughts and feelings can be considered all of the time and I hope people haven’t been too hard on you if they’ve ever been offended. (I know you know the first part of the sentence, just wanted to say it.) For example, I miscarried several years ago and I found it difficult to hear pregnant women complain about their aches and pains, etc. Because to me, at least they were still pregnant and stretch marks and back pain seemed like a luxury. But I knew in my heart it wasn’t about me and that it’s all relative. Then last year my dear uncle, who struggled with mental illness, took his own life. I still bristle when people say things like “I want to kill myself” or “I’m going to blow my brains out.” But again, I remind myself that these statements aren’t about me (or my uncle or , really, anyone who has actually committed suicide) and that most people don’t mean to be insensitive. (In fact, I’ve been guilty of such hyberbole, perhaps a persistent relic from my teens. I’m working on correcting this though.) I also believe, because emotions are so high right now, that some people are looking for missteps, a cause to get angry at or offended by someone. I’m not saying this is the case with your readers, or that I can even explain why that might be. Anyway, I’m not sure I’ve really added to this conversation, I really just wanted to show my support.

  • I second the suicide comments. People mime shooting themselves or hanging themselves, use the phrase “makes me want to kill myself.” I have even heard “go kill yourself” as an offhand joke? Hard to believe people are still saying these things. The rhetoric around suicide is messed up enough without throwing in these offhand, cavalier expressions.

    The term “suicide” gets used all over the place: “Suicide girls” “Suicide Squad”- maybe the use of the term can be justified but it seems to casualize something horrific that affects so many of our lives.

  • My friend was murdered this week, a victim of domestic violence. In passing yesterday Adam said “you killed it!” in reference to a piece of cake I literally inhaled. My mental state caused me to react and lash out, only to apologize as I know he didn’t mean to hurt me. Again, it’s all context and I struggle with being careful with what we say and with also being overly sensitive. I still don’t have an answer, but kindness from everyone never hurts.

    • My sister was recently murdered, also a dv victim. These are hard days, be gentle with yourself. I’ve spoken with my therapist a great deal about how many different ways the world has changed since her murder, and this language- the casual violence that we use in everyday conversation- is the biggest thing I’ve noticed. It’s not like it hasn’t been there, or that I haven’t used it, but words have meaning and those meanings have impact. And we should remember that. And sometimes it takes something really terrible like this to jog us into realizing it.

  • “You’re mean” is a phrase my children throw about, and though I know there is a bit of manipulation going on, it still never fails to hurt me. Saying you’re anything is like calling names and implying someone is not good enough. You’re so messy, you’re too loud, you’re clumsy…Finding more constructive ways to help a person notice or change negative behavior would be so much better. I’m working on how to rephrase things- especially in the heat of a disagreement or power struggle. And I’ll admit it’s tough. Regarding your article, you are in a position in which you share your words with many people, and so are making an effort to be more sensitive than most probably would in day to day interactions. But as you and others have commented, the point should also be to change the intimate dialogues. Even those within ourselves. What is the phrase about having character even when no one is watching? And the idea of changing ourselves to change the world…Thank you always for your honesty, intelligent writing, and beautiful images.

  • Hi, Grace.

    Thanks for posting this article. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot over the past two weeks. I struggle with knowing how to properly acknowledge tragedies online and on social media platforms when I am still shocked and grieving. Words seem to leave me when troubles erupt (I deflate and shut down – I am by no means a writer), yet silence regarding tragedies seems insensitive and inappropriate. I don’t want to be silent and I don’t want my silence to hurt others. When I have no words and am still wrestling with my own thoughts and feelings, what do I say? I feel guilty I have remained silent over the past few weeks and wish that the right words would come to me but they have not. Has this ever happened to you? With a large following both online and on social media, have you ever felt pressure to speak on a topic before you were ready? How do you suggest I handle events like this moving forward when I have a hard time knowing what to say?

    • Katherine

      I know what you mean. But I think you actually found what to say in your comment, “When I have no words and am still wrestling with my own thoughts and feelings..”

      I think you can (if you want) say just that. That you’re wrestling with your thoughts and feelings. I think most everyone knows what that feels like right now. There is no perfect way, time or method of expressing these difficult times we’re going through. But I think showing support if that’s what’s in your heart, is always a kind thing to do.


  • Hope that my previous comment doesn’t stray too far from your post. I guess I should have added this question that prompted my initial comment: Words and phrases can be misinterpreted, but what if you have no words or phrases to speak? Silence online in the wake of tragedies can also be misinterpreted and it’s a personal challenge I would like to combat and work through moving forward.

  • I’m glad you’ve offered this as a discussion point, Grace. It’s certainly an interesting one.

    I try to walk a balance between being sensitive with my own choice of words (to prevent being offensive or misperception of context) and maintaining a positive/realistic perspective when I observe others saying something that’s subtly painful.

    For example, one Halloween, I was chatting with a co-worker (who is originally from Jamaica) about a movie that I used to watch as a child called “Mr. Boogedy.” (I was dressed as a zombie that particular year, and was trying to make a joke about how my facial make-up had turned out, by making a comparison against the film’s title character.) When she revealed to me that she was unfamiliar with the movie (which was unsurprising…because it’s pretty rare), I responded by saying, “Oh, was the movie before your time in this country?” It didn’t even occur to me, as the words leapt from my lips, that I could be saying something that offended her…but I had. Unbeknownst to me, she had experienced racism when her family first emigrated to the States; and my words had cut into her. It didn’t matter to her that I didn’t mean anything, by what I’d said. It was painful, to her. (Needless to say, I learned from that experience.)

    While it is not always easy (and sometimes inexcusable), I also try to keep things in perspective, when witnessing language that’s PERSONALLY painful. A little over five years ago, my father died of congestive heart failure. For most of my relationship with him, it was on good terms; however, during what would be the last six weeks of his life, we were estranged. (He had been the caregiver of my 92-year-old grandfather…and, through a series of events, I learned that he was giving my grandfather abusive treatment. He became cut off, after this revelation.) Without going into more detail (because I’d be writing foooorever), I can tell you that period was one of the hardest, most complicated, and most painful challenges of my life. To lose a parent, to lose a parent without saying goodbye, to be furious over something that can only be described as “monstrous” — not fun stuff. He passed away on April 20th…and every deathiversary comes and goes with countless references to “420.” Just as each Father’s Day, my senses are overwhelmed with celebrating “dads.” While completely innocent, these are reminders of a touchy personal topic. But, I completely realize that these are innocent things…and that people don’t mean to stir up painful feelings.

    I think the common thread between these scenarios is this: To have a kinder (and happier) existence on this planet, you have to consider how your actions affect others. Take responsibility, when it’s appropriate. Be forgiving, when it’s warranted.

    It’s a give and take.

  • There are many words intermingled in our vocabularies that need to go, and habits we need to — at the very least — have moments of introspection about. There are words we should know, or with the slightest thought WOULD know, are problematic, and words we use that we have no idea to the meaning of. (Cake Walk is a current biggie.)

    There is also a growing sensitivity that we should always be sensitive to, but also watchful of. If we focus too much on the “what we hear” element of communication, we’re zeroing in on idiosyncratic reactions, and not the words and exaggerations we should confront.

    Thoughtfulness should go both ways — strive to be thoughtful of others, both as the speaker and listener. There are too many good things, bad things, and types of people for everyone to be happy with how we communicate. But we can see if we’re only thinking about ourselves in how we hear or speak, or thinking about other people’s realities as well.

  • Thanks for opening up this discussion! I think it is a great topic to think and talk about. I really appreciate the comment by Laura, who hit it spot on. “This is not to excuse the responsibility of the writer, I just mean that as humans beings desiring connection, we will bump into each other sometimes in our work to understand each other. We can’t all hold the heavy spaces all the time, and in some ways I think that might be a good thing. ” We cannot be responsible at all times for the triggers our language might hold for anyone in the world at any time and we all process things differently. We all have different triggers. For some these phrases might not be offensive at all, for others they are. In fact two people within the same context and life circumstances, might have totally different reactions to it. I think it is also important to have open and free discussions, if speech is constantly policed and forced to be PC many people are afraid to discuss things like race for fear of saying the wrong thing, and in fact it prevents us from “bumping into each other” as Laura said, which often results in greater understanding from each side, when engaged in respectfully. If language should be edited depending on world events and even personal tragedies and current events within our own worlds, all the time, we would not have much to say. That definitely does not mean we shouldn’t be thoughtful about it, as you say. We flaunt our privilege everyday, by complaining, by what we post on Instagram, what we talk about. And privilege is subjective. I think being thoughtful, aware of your audience, and kind is key.

    Thanks for the discussion! You have had me thinking about this topic for days, thanks for stretching my perspective.

    • Chelsea

      Thank you for your thoughts here, and for your thoughts on Facebook- they inspired me to think about this topic from a different angle. I truly appreciate your open mind here and continuing to “stretch” your perspective along with all of us here :)

      I agree that we will all be “bumping into each other” all the time, but I do think that we are responsible for the results of our words and actions, despite our best intentions. I’m not suggesting some sort of self-flagellation for unintentionally offending someone, but instead, a moment to pause, reflect and listen to someone else’s feelings and reaction. I think that moment is a form of taking resposibility that helps us move forward together with understanding. It can be difficult and uncomfortable to make changes to the way we speak when we’ve never been made to think about those sorts of things (I really, really struggled with this a while back and still learn something new every day that I need to work on and be more aware of), but those difficult and uncomfortable moments are so important to feel, because they’re one of the ways we can get closer to understanding and empathizing with someone else’s experience in life.

      One small caveat: I don’t feel that privilege is subjective, as there are undeniable facts related to privilege that come with race, class and economics. And to describe those as subjective feels like missing a chance to really see how different so many people’s world views and experiences really are.

      I truly appreciate your continued input here, your thoughts and your open mind. These topics are complicated to unpack and full of nuance and I struggle with them on a daily basis, but continuing to talk about them (here and elsewhere) has been so helpful and eye opening to me and I appreciate you continuing to be a part of that, too.


      • Thanks, Grace! When I talk about privilege being subjective I am referring to economic privilege. If you compare an average life in America to an indigenous tribe elsewhere, we might automatically assume we are the privileged ones, but actually they may not view it the same way. Our “wealth” may not be a benefit to them at all, but rather a burden. And there are so many levels of economic privilege it truly is an entire ladder of perspective and I think recognizing that is not discounting someone’s experience, in fact, it’s sort of the opposite.

        I think you are talking more about the privilege of being able to drive home without being worried about being stopped by a cop because of the color of your skin, or having the choice to turn off a bad news story instead of living it, and of course that is more concrete.

        I think we are in absolute agreement on empathy, and responsibility, and awareness. Recognizing privilege goes a long way and to me that’s really what thoughtful speech is about. What is appropriate and what’s not and when to judge it as offensive and when to not is subjective, you have to act in a way you feel good about.


  • Of the many of words and expressions I use that don’t always translate culturally (kill two birds with one stone; I don’t have a dog in that fight; more than one way to skin a cat…) I think the word I MOST self-correct on is the word NEED. I use NEED all the time for those shoes I want, that Society bed linen I want, that room at the NoMad I want to reserve, the Le Creuset roaster… And I stop myself and think about how absolutely ridiculous, vacuous, and spoiled I sound referring to those material things as needs when there are people who skip a meal so their children can eat, or mothers who dig in the trash to find food for their children, or people who have no food or shelter at all. But I can say that when someone does say something I think is unintentionally insensitive, I try to find the courage to let them know how it made me feel in a polite and non-accusatory way.

  • I want to take this opportunity to talk about something I’ve seen here and on other design blogs that made me step back from the design world in a really big way, and that’s the cultural appropriation around native american/indigenous people. There’s a lot written online about this already so I wont prattle on here, but the blind spot around the appropriation and how offensive the language around it has been truly hurts and I find to be violent.

    I really appreciate your mindfulness grace. I always have and always will <3

  • Oh I love this Grace. I haven’t commented in so long but this really spoke to me. One of the words that always bothers me so much is “perfection” or “that is perfection” because maybe in that instance that photo of a pretty room or object does look really nice but I find it very difficult to use that word for some reason (relative to an inanimate object :))

  • “Your beliefs become your thoughts,
    Your thoughts become your WORDS,
    Your words become your actions,
    Your actions become your habits,
    Your habits become your values,
    Your values become your destiny.” — Gandhi

    Words DO matter. What we say and how we say it are a reflection of who we are. Thoughtlessness and carelessness is not an excuse.

    My pet peeve is grief. The dead are dead. Not ‘gone’. Not ‘passed away’. Certainly I have not ‘lost’ my husband (I know where he is. He was a person, not car keys.) We live in a death-phobic world, sadly empty of vocabulary to be honest and open about sorrow and grief and yet our world is split open by death every day. And yet the fact is each of us will die. Each one. Every sunset is a death that births a new day. We need to find our strength with each other and for each other and with honest words, spoken in kindness, clarity, courage, humanity and GRACE.

  • Hi Grace,

    I also appreciate your mindfulness, and I have a lot of respect for your work, and I rearely comment anymore…

    That said, I’ve noticed your Herculean effort to include artists/designers/bloggers from every ethnic background out there, and really do appreciate that, but I’ve drastically reduced my visits because D*S has begun to feel like a female-focused personal growth blog, rather than a blog about art and design. I know you’re trying to eliminate consumerism from D*S, but I really miss the sense of discovery you used to provide.

    But because you’re providing a forum for how words can affect those you interact with, I’d to use this opportunity to clarify an interaction I had with you on IG a few months ago during a #dsflowers challenge.

    You may not remember, but I tagged a photo of a bouquet I’d taken at gay wedding in Chicago. I really thought you’d appreciate a photo from within our community (I didn’t feel the need to identify myself as 45 year old gay man). The photo could have been better. :) However…

    The response I received was something to the effect of:

    “Hi. Don’t you mean same sex marriage? My group of friends here in upstate New York prefers that term over the other.” For some reason (that I still can’t understand), I responded immediately to apologize for my cluelessness. You responded with “Thanks for understanding. ;)”

    Again, this is not an exact transcript of our IG conversation, but as I read, and re-read, your response, I kept asking myself “Was I just scolded for using the word GAY?! Really?? When did the word GAY become a bad word again? And WHY did I apologize?”

    Thanks again for opening this up.


    • T

      I’m sorry if you felt scolded. That was not my intention, but I see how it could have felt that way. I remember our conversation and I don’t believe I refrenced a “group of friends in upstate NY”, but if the effect was that you felt put on the spot or scolded, I apologize.

      While not all gay people feel the same way, I personally take offense with the term “gay wedding” (I have no problem with the word “gay”). To me, “gay wedding” implies that a wedding only means only a same sex couple, so they need to designate it as gay (and therefore abnormal or different). My background with this issue is informed by the overwhelming number of press releases I get from primarily straight wedding vendors who like to now tout their coverage of “gay weddings” as if they deserve a pat on the back for finally acknowledging that non-same-sex weddings exist. Reading those day in and day out has made me sensitive about this topic and phrasing.

      I understand if our focus on creative people, homes and projects (but not products) isn’t the right fit for you. After 10 years of providing a platform for what can often be described as consumerism, I’m more interested in providing a platform for creative voices and the people behind those products. But I completely understand if that’s not your cup of tea. There are a wide range of blogging colleagues in our community who still cover shopping as a major component of their coverage and hopefully they’ll be able to provide that particular type of inspiration.


  • I read this article a few times and have been thinking about it in the context of my own life. When I think about my own experience I feel like there’s something much more obvious that happens. I’ve gone through quite a few things over the past year, including some medical issues/surgery, a death in the family from long cancer, etc. I don’t think I’m special – I know we all have these things. My point is that I find that the slang people use isn’t a big deal compared to the tendency of people to discount others. Or maybe just not really listen? I’m not sure how to describe it.

    For example, my boyfriend went through heart failure last year and (while he’s okay) can no longer race his bicycle competitively as he used to. He’ll talk to people about his condition, yet sometimes he’ll get asked when he’s going to race again, which bothers him. Later we’ll discuss it and it goes something like, “How could ____ ask you if you were going to race again? Were they not listening? What don’t they understand about the term ‘heart failure’?” And on and on.

    Coincidentally I had surgery last October and have had similar reactions. “Well when are you going to do ‘X’?” Sometimes it feels like no one is listening to what I’m saying . . . it’s very frustrating.

    I’m not easily offended. We recently had a close family die of lung cancer – someone could say “I’d die for that” and it wouldn’t bother me. I’ve had people ask me outright about my sexuality and other questions that are probably considered rude and it doesn’t bother me. I actually appreciate curiosity and I feel like I’m pretty good at evaluating intention. It’s the discounting I mentioned that really bothers me – more than anything.

    Since I can’t change other people and can only change myself, I’m trying to alter my perspective first. I could get into everything that means, but this comment is already long :D

    Just something related to think about. I guess I don’t worry about the little things that people say (at least they are little to me if it’s someone I know has good intentions) as much as being listened to in general.

    Thank you for making me think.

  • Hi Grace,

    Thank you so much for this post. For months, I’ve been begging people to stop using violence words like “kill,” “murder,” and “crush” (among others) as euphemisms for accomplishment.

    When we use brutality as a metaphor to express pleasure and delight in accomplishments, we create a powerful emotional and intellectual link between physical cruelty and personal performance. While we’re not actually committing physical acts of violence, we’re equating the worst sorts of behavior with the most desired outcomes in our lives—the achievement of our aspirations become inextricably tied to imagery of killing and hurting other people.

    One way of renouncing violence in the world is to stop using brutality words indiscriminately. This is how we affect change: one sentence at a time.

    With love and gratitude,

  • I agree that using a terms such as ‘so gay’ and using the term ‘ to murder’ in reference to a person isn’t okay, but it seems over the top to think that ‘murdering a hamburger’ was thoughtless of the food writer. As I type this I’m staring at an article title with the phrase ‘…how the all white aesthetic has affected design’, which out of context is pretty funny. Its impossible to not offend someone, we just need to make an effort to think twice and also live and let live.

    (at the risk of offending the teetotalers and Ted Danson critics)

    • Beks

      I think the idea of “thinking twice” goes both ways when it comes to language. Despite someone’s best intentions, feelings can be hurt, and ignoring that and neglecting to take responsibility for the effect of our words only pushes us further apart from each other.


  • Hi Grace
    We’ve never met but I feel safe saying that you are an amazing person who is very smart and creative and has a huge heart.
    The black lives matter signs scare me. It is sort of like what you describe above regarding gay weddings. All lives matter and I am afraid that focusing on black lives matter causes deeper divisions. I know that someone posted that his students who say all lives matter, don’t have any idea… Of course they don’t. That is the point. You just can’t know the world exactly as another does. His students can’t, but they are expressing a willingness to be on equal ground everyone. And isn’t that what we need right now? The solutions are not going to come from someone who is just like you. The solutions are going to come from someone who is not like you but has a willingness to put effort into relationships. The person that wrote that his students don’t have any idea, probably doesn’t have any idea what it is like to be a woman, or gay, or handicapped or Latino and so on.
    There is such incredible complexity to what is going on in this country and President Obama has had a lot of very wise words as he speaks after tragedies. I am afraid that all the media coverage of every kind amps things up and causes more trouble. So many things are getting blamed on racism right now that I am afraid we won’t be able to get to the real solutions of many problems including racism. I heard Kwame Alexander on the radio last Sunday. He was very inspiring.

  • I think there is a distinction to be made here between the public and the private. While in private, with my family, I feel comfortable using hyperbole, it is different when in public. In my professional life, I would never say that I felt like I’d just “die” or that someone had “killed it.” The audience is unknown, and with an unknown audience, it is best to be cautious.

    The same is true of humor–I was reading a blog I had long enjoyed a while back, and a new voice was introduced. That voice started joking about how a recent move from a life of privilege in a city to a life in a town where the cows outnumbered the people and the local gas station (shock) sold T-shirts. I think that the person was trying to make the point about giving up a life of privilege and that portraying the impending suggestions for frugal decor as being from someone who was living beyond the pale, far away from easy access to civilized commodities, and had to be genuinely frugal.

    What that person apparently did not stop to think about is that some of us have always lived in places where cows outnumber people and the local gas stations have always sold T-shirts. I am not sure that anyone in the area where this person now lives needs someone to come and be a missionary for “good taste”–I am not sure that anyone needs a person to be a missionary for “good taste.” Tastes vary.

    I do not note in on this blog frequently–though I have stopped reading several (including that one) because I tired of the writers mocking “grandma” decor or “dated” looks or people in rural areas or (okay, an example from your blog) a “kitcheny kitchen.” I am glad that some people have disposable income which allows them to change things (including major architectural details) according to the current “trend,” but I don’t think it necessary to mock others who do not have a similar option.

    It is fine to have one’s own specific taste, but I find it problematic to mock something for being “dated” while simultaneously encouraging people to follow a “trend.” I feel that if something is ugly today, it was ugly five years ago when it was popular–and if what is popular today will be ugly five years in the future, it’s ugly now.

    Some people do not have the income to be changing things every couple of years to stay up with trends–using mockery for the possessions of such people really just makes them feel even worse about lacking the funds to keep up with trends. I feel that tone is important in a design blog, as well as some awareness of those who love beautiful things but lack the funds to replace things regularly.

    But, for myself? I try very hard never to say “brain-dead” when speaking to someone outside my family. I also try very hard not to say “drives me crazy.” There are just too many people dealing with tragedies and hardship out there, and these are phrases I studiously avoid in public.

    • Bean

      I completely agree. I think the idea of dated vs. trendy is a complicated one that has the potential to make people feel torn about or judged for their choices, especially when making regular changes is cost-prohibitive.

      Our focus here hasn’t been on trends or frequent home changes for a very long time (it’s why we stopped posting about products, I felt like we were sending the message that people needed to be buying things regularly). We show weekly makeover projects, but they’re all transparent about how long they took, how much they cost, etc. Our hope is that it will make the projects more relatable and understood that they weren’t something done quickly, on a whim or without regard to cost.



  • Conversations like this one are helpful for listening to others’ perspectives. I take away from your comments the importance of actively participating in current dialogue–listening to others and increasing our capacity for empathy.
    I agree that it is important to be mindful of the impact of words but also to take responsibility for how I react based on my individual perspective.
    It sounds like people here have a lot of life experience and wisdom. I know I did not always have as much perspective and try to give others the benefit of the doubt.
    There are definitely moments where boundaries are clearly crossed. I do not mean to minimize the importance of taking a stand when it is imperative or even gently making a friend aware of your conflicting perspective.
    Encouraging dialogue is key.