May 21, 2021

An (Actually) Enlightened 3-Word Phrase that Works Better than “F*ck Off.”

**Warning: Well-deserved cursing ahead.


Yeeeeaaaah, let me know how that works out for ya. Whatever, man; I hope you find peace. We all have our own journey—you do you. God bless you.

All of the above are suggested acceptable alternatives to saying, “Fuck off.”

An article here labels these “enlightened.” An article there says they “work better” than your traditional middle finger of a phrase.

My problem with every single one of them? They’re not at all enlightened; they’re passive aggressive. And honestly, there’s a problem with promoting behavior like this.

I mean, there’s a reason this kind of article or messaging connects with us. Who hasn’t wanted to reach through the computer screen and hold up a sturdy middle finger to the writer of a particularly irksome email or Slack message? Who hasn’t received that “compliment” that we just know is meant to bring us down?

Besides, “fucks” of all sorts are all the rage. They’re casual, fierce, unabashedly unrefined. They’re mainstream. And mainstream means widely accepted. Enter: the problem.

It’s our gut reaction—our basic instinct—to want to defend ourselves and perhaps offer some form of retaliation. But all it does to respond in such a way is perpetuate a pretty low level of being on an individual and community level. That’s not what we want, else we wouldn’t click into an article that would claim to help us offer a less biting remark.

But the truth is that however “enlightened” the so-called gentler phrasing, the intention and emotion of pissed-offness in a non-fuck you fuck you is still the same. It’s not actually enlightened, and it’s not even an alternative. We’re saying the same thing, just using different words.

It’s the “mindful” microaggression you never knew you use—all the time.

Alternative fuck yous are juvenile, ineffective, and demonstrate a lack of emotional intelligence. We can do better.

Here’s a truly enlightened three-word alternative that can diffuse our suck-it mentality, and actually “raise our vibe”:

“Remember their essence.”

You say this to yourself, not them.

I know. It’s totally not as fun. But, hear me out.

In simplistic terms, a person’s essence is what we see in them at their very best. If you want to get Buddhist about it, it’s the basic goodness that we all have at our core.

The opposite—call it someone’s survival mode—is the garbage we come up against when we want to slather someone with all our bad words like a whipped-cream pie to their face.

To find someone’s essence, ask yourself:

>> What shows up when this person does?
>> What does this person bring to a room?
>> What are three words you’d use to describe them?

The tricky part? The negative impressions don’t count.

Essence isn’t negative. It’s that “love and light” we all like to talk about but that is both hard to find in others on their bad days and hard to display during our own dark times.

So, let go of the pissy shit and look back for any warm fuzzies or moments of having felt impressed by or pleased with this person. Answer the essence questions from that space in your memory.

For example, at my best, I’m curious. I bring alternative perspectives to a conversation because at heart, I’m a lover and can find and latch onto the positive in most people. At my best, I bring either a sense of calm or laughter into a room. At my worst I’m insistent upon having my way and become a taker instead of a giver. I get jealous, paranoid, and suspicious of others and reject them. Instead of calm, I bring around a shit ton of stress and heaviness.

If I were finding my own essence, I’d discard all the latter “negative” stuff.

This is not bypassing, and here’s why:

When someone comes at us with some form of yuck and, say, gives us unnecessarily harsh criticism, serves us a long roster of our recent failures and shortcomings, uses us as a target for blame, or even dishes out direct, feisty jabs without offering context for them, reminding ourselves of someone’s essence helps us to realize the one, single thing we need to take away from most of these experiences:

This is not about us—at least not fully (because, let’s be honest, usually we’ve contributed something to a situation, and we should all be taking responsibility for our actions—or lack thereof).

This is about them. Something going on in their life has triggered their survival mode and is causing them to act outside of their essence.

When we realize this, there is no need for our reactivity—only compassion.

When we realize this, we have just enough time to take a deep breath or two before doing one of three things. Either we:

>> Offer something we can and will do in the following moments to take ownership of a shortcoming that was probably just one more survival trigger.
>> Offer a simple acknowledgment of having heard the message, and leave it alone knowing that most communication in the moment won’t be fully received, anyway.
>> Offer acknowledgement and maybe also some form of validation.

Sure, if we focus only on the other person here—if we have a tendency to be a fixer and solve this person’s problems, there exists the danger of idiot compassion or people-pleasing or an unhealthy level of prioritization of others. So, fixers beware, here. But this is not the sort of action I am talking about.

What I’m talking about is a simple moment of recognition—a brief moment of “I see you” in the midst of the heatwaves of someone’s invisible struggle.

What I’m talking about is dropping the idea that this is as personal as we make it (yes—even if that was the other’s intention to make it so) and instead, letting it be about the other.

What I’m talking about is deciding not to fan the survival flames of another, but to instead come back to our own essence when we want to drop into our reactive survival mechanisms in response to someone’s trespass against us.

When in our essence, we’re likely to be able to objectively look at and process how the situation’s made us feel, and possibly file it away to discuss with our offender later, if it’s important enough an issue.

We acknowledge both another and ourselves while recognizing that there is a time and place for conflict resolution—and that the heat of the moment isn’t it.

Ah, but what if it’s a douchey stranger?

We might not know the pissy passer-by or the bitchy baristo well enough to discern their essence, but chances are that their best friend would tell us some wonderful things about who they are on their best of days. And in that case, what should probably come to our minds is, “Shoot! They’re probably having a bad day! Where the hell is their bestie?” and not, “Alright motherfucker, it’s on!” right?

So why not take a slow, grounding whiff of our morning espresso and offer a legitimate wish for a good rest of their day—but only if we mean it?

What if we “just can’t”?

What if we don’t mean it? What if we can’t find that space of compassion, or get back to our own essence?

A professor once told me that fucks are best used when there’s just nothing, no other word or feeling or action, that will suffice for what we’re trying to convey. And when used artfully, I’m a big fan.

Use your fuck yous poetically.

But then there’s always the wisdom of Bambi’s Thumper: “If ya can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” And I’m a big fan of that as well.

Just please, whatever we do, let’s not resort to—or, worse, normalize—passive aggressive bulls*t phrasing hidden beneath the “positivity” rug of alternative fuck yous.

Let’s be direct, let’s be in our essence, or, in these moments of surrender to anything less, let’s be prepared to temporarily relinquish our self-dubbed titles of enlightened or mindful.

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