So…What’s My Problem?



two-men-talkingEarlier today, I went to the local post office, and immediately noticed two things. One: the line was much shorter than usual. Two: A woman was using a table to assemble her package. A man, holding a key, asked if he could get through to access one of the mailboxes. She made a little room for him and when he was done, he said, “Sorry.” Her reply: “No problem.”


I admit that this is an unremarkable story. Very much so. But I also admit that I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with “no problem.” And, I won’t say I’m sorry for this sensitivity.


To me, “no problem” is the first cousin of another expression that used to make my skin crawl on impact. Here’s an illustration of it. I go to the local convenience store for, perhaps, some milk and bread—the exact items don’t matter. The clerk (age and gender don’t matter, either) looks over and replies, “Is that all?”




Scenario Number 3 could take place in a variety of settings, including but certainly not limited to that very convenience store. After a transaction or conversation of whatever length, the other party (with whatever amount of sincerity) concludes with, “Have a good one.”


Okay, I admit to not always being the most sparkling of conversationalists, but I simply loathe all of the above expressions. Does that make me a word/conversation snob, or just somebody who cares about the words that I speak and write? Both? Okay.


So, what is my problem? To analyze this beyond my temporary, almost visceral, repulsion to how these (and other) expressions are used, I guess that I have always been bothered by the mindless use of certain words and expressions.  And cyber acronyms…but I’ll try to leave my attack on “LOL”, “TTFN” and other gems for another time.


I truly enjoy it when people use words with either precision, creativity, or both. All of the above are examples that epitomize the mindless use of words—with not a hint of precision or creativity.


What’s my solution? I don’t really have one—although I hope to make an ever-so-slight difference by creating my own Wordapods and other expressions. I also try not to fall into the same traps of using the same words and phrases as others, especially when they have a negative meaning, or no meaning at all.


Our choice of words is just that—a choice. And once we use words mindlessly, what’s to stop any of us from borrowing or repeating other people’s ideas in the same mindless fashion? Almost all of us do so from time to time, and it’s both contagious and corrupting.


So, what of the unidentified lady in the post office? The guy in that everyday scenario needed access to the mailbox that he had paid for, and she (while certainly doing nothing wrong) was in the way. He extended a gracious “I’m sorry”, and maybe she thought she was being equally gracious by replying with the mindless “No problem.” She could have said, “Oh, that’s okay” or “Have a good day,” or any one of similar niceties. She acted as if she was doing somebody a favor—when of course she wasn’t.


To me, whenever a store clerk would ask me, “Is that all?” I’d want to say, “ No. On second thought, I don’t want any of this. See you later”  Or maybe, “Yes, I’ll be back tomorrow, to buy all of Aisle 3.” To me, that expression is the epitome of ungraciousness—a cue that the business (via that clerk, anyway) doesn’t appreciate my business.


As to “Have a good one”, it is offensive in a way that I get offended more easily than most: It’s the height of mindless prattle by people who probably think that they’re being clever, or warm. It’s neither. While I respect the versatility of “one”—which could mean anything—it also doesn’t mean a single thing in that context. It’s a perfectly useless thing to say. Just like saying “how are you doing?” while walking away from somebody who might shock us by actually giving us an answer to that question.


To me, all of these seemingly innocuous incidents add up to something much more. They remind me that we choose our words as well as our actions, and that both are very important. To take this up a notch, it is also a reminder that we have the opportunity to act both creatively and more meaningfully. There is no reason to have to choose between the two.


I am pondering such things as Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year—approaches. This is the beginning of a ten-day period known as the Days of Awe; it is a time of self-reflection and spiritual renewal as well as a chance to atone and pray for our transgressions. We also send our appreciation to God, as we pray that we and others will be inscribed in the BOOK OF LIFE for another year.


Whether or not you share this belief, or have other ways (or times) to seek spiritual renewal, you may also appreciate that this is an awesome opportunity to better ourselves and try to lead more meaningful lives.


During these special days, the Jewish tradition instructs us to offer (preferably, in face-to-face meetings) sincere apologies to those whom we may have wronged in the previous year. Hopefully, our apologies will be met with something more meaningful than “No problem—is that all?”


And, when we pray to God with a purity of heart, one can only hope that He will greet our entreaties with something other than “Have a good one.”



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2 Responses to So…What’s My Problem?

  • Akweli says:

    For what it's worth, I often find myself feeling guilty after using many of the mindless phrases you mention above. They're a sort of mental shortcut, committed as much out of nervousness as laziness. I think you're right in that it takes a certain amount of mindfulness and presence in your interactions to overcome these conversational crutches. You're also on point about the limitations of our language for precisely describing every aspect of the human experience. But with the addition of words like "twerk" to the dictionary, perhaps we shall transcend this shortcoming.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking read, and hey, have a good one!

  • admin says:

    Thanks for your read and take (and even your clever wishes), AP.

    I’m not against new words being added – even twerk – but yes, I do get worked (even twerked) up about the mindless use of somewhat insulting expressions.