“Language, Assumption, and Empowerment” by Rushton Hurley – October, 2020

Rushton Hurley

“I can’t believe you said that!”

Have you ever had that as an angry response to something you said? If so, did it immediately occur to you that the other person had heard what you said, but not at all what you meant?

Friends (and patient people of all types) tend to respond to tough moments with questions rather than statements.

“Are you saying…?”

That is a move that shows a willingness to be humble (we don’t always understand what people are saying), and a caring for the other (we want the other person to know we won’t jump to problematic assumptions).

It’s a simple thing, but can do much to strengthen relationships.

Another way to look at “I can’t believe you said that!”, though, is to consider a scenario in which someone has just been blown away that you were able to say something in another language that the listener wouldn’t have guessed you could.

Everyone understands that a prerequisite for human friendship is some ability to communicate, and typically by language. 

If we look at learning another language (Mandarin for English speakers, or vice-versa) as a good example, one might consider what it means to make the leap.

Two years ago I began studying Mandarin using YouTube videos, podcasts, and the free Duolingo app. I was intrigued by the challenge of learning another language for free, and as I already am pretty good at Japanese, I figured the characters wouldn’t be an impossible barrier to overcome.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve had a blast picking up things I can try out with my Mandarin-speaking friends. They encourage me, and their smiles when I get the tones right is something I treasure.

The effort is something that strengthens my relationships, and gives me a feeling of empowerment. What will I try saying when I see my friends next?

Whatever it is that helps you develop more patience and empowers you, give it your time. It might serve as a new avenue for strengthening your friendships.


Rushton Hurley is a former high school teacher, former principal of an online high school, program director at the Krause Center for Innovation, and founder and executive director of the educational nonprofit NextVista.org. Rushton has spoken to and trained over 100,000 teachers and school leaders around the world over the last decade, on topics such as professional development, school improvement, change strategies, staff morale, promotion in the community, and getting the best out of students and teachers.