Honesty is such a lonely word
A few weeks ago I was in the Rockaways with my family when we saw a flier advertising a charity run for a young woman who sadly had died from cancer. As my cousin read the flier she said to me, "read the description and tell me what you think." Of course it starts out with what a wonderful person she was, her family, etc. but the last part of the sentence made me stop and re-read it. "...mostly a good friend to all."
Things were getting juicy
Mostly? What an odd choice of words, right? I started to wonder why, in an obituary of sorts, you'd mention that she was "mostly a good friend." Shouldn't she have been the best friend ever? Wasn't she amazing and fantastic and beloved and all the things we tend to say when remembering those who've passed?
We couldn't get over it. Why would you say that about someone who's dead and for whom you're organizing a charitable event? It was super perplexing.
But part of me really respected it. How refreshingly honest to say, she wasn't perfect and she didn't really like everyone, but mostly she was a good friend. What would the world be like if instead of making everyone who died seem like a saint, we talked about them as if they were truly flawed humans? Wouldn't that be amazing? I kind of wished I'd known this woman now. This woman who made you work to be her friend and earn her friendship. She sounds like exactly my kind of person. Discerning and tough but loyal. Authentic. Someone who knew who she was. I'd take that over sainthood any day.
Why words matter
This became the topic of conversation all morning. We even told the rest of the family about it when we came home. Like, 'can you believe this? Why would they do that?' And then my other cousin turns around and says, "well, they probably meant most of all, not mostly."
"...and most of all a good friend."
OMG. That's exactly what they meant but they used the wrong word. And none of us had figured that out.
Part of me was sad at the realization that in fact, they had gone the traditional and expected route of making her sound like the best person ever, but then part of me realized this is just what you do, especially when someone dies so young and leaves so much behind.
I wonder how many other people read this and thought the same thing we did. Or how many didn't give it a second thought and assumed what my cousin said, that mostly and most of all were used interchangeably in this instance.
Know your audience
Surely, the people who knew this woman understood the point this flier was making and read it as intended. But that's the thing with audience. You have to assume that people outside of your narrow industry or world won't understand your intention because they likely don't know you. They aren't insiders.
They're outsiders that you want to become insiders. But to do that, they need to be spoken to with clear messaging that showcases who you are and how you can help them.
But most of all, you need to invite them in.