Don’t Use ‘Drama Language’ to Talk About the Coronavirus

Elizabeth Gilbert offers a question to ask yourself before you speak

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert speaks on stage during Texas Conference For Women 2019. Photo: Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images

ItIt seems like 100% of my conversations over the past week have been about the coronavirus, in one way or another. Here in Spain, the government recently imposed a lockdown to contain the outbreak. I’m scared. I’m worried about my two little boys. I’m worried about my wife. I’m worried about our parents, who have their fair share of health issues. I’ve been getting sucked into the panic that’s being amplified by the news and my social circle, and I know I haven’t been completely mindful of my words.

But then the other day, while scrolling through Instagram for the first time in over a month (we’re in quarantine — I needed an escape), I came across a video from author Elizabeth Gilbert. She described something that happened to her last week: While working in Australia, rumors about a travel ban began to swirl. She became rattled and hurriedly started sending her family members messages to let them know she was going to try to catch the next flight home.

She started typing out messages like this:

“I gotta get out of Australia before they close down the borders.”

“I gotta get out of here before America totally shuts down.”

“I gotta grab the last flight outta here while I can before there’s total pandemonium and chaos.”

But then, right before hitting send, Gilbert looked around and had a realization: There wasn’t any pandemonium and chaos that she could see. In fact, it was quite the opposite. She saw people soberly going about their lives, trying to make the best decisions they could.

She realized she was choosing to use “drama language” to describe what was happening — words that conveyed an urgency that wasn’t necessarily the reality. She decided this wasn’t the way she wanted to be communicating to her family, so she picked up her phone again and edited her text to simply read: “Hey, I got a flight and I’m coming home early.”

Here’s what we should be asking ourselves whenever we talk about the coronavirus: Am I adding to the panic or stress of others, or am I being a calming influence?

The question has been running through my mind all day, while my little family of four sits around the house. We all have access to the news and are hearing the reports. But this is not just about facts and practical preparedness. In times like this, it’s of the utmost importance to be there emotionally for those we love.

So, here’s a simple thing I’m trying to do: Take a moment to pause when my emotions are running high. Ask myself whether the words I’m about to say are the ones that the people around me need to hear.

This can be tough, especially when those we love are far away and we can’t be with them physically. When we’re talking to people over the phone or by text, we don’t get to see their facial gestures or body language. But we can put ourselves in their shoes.

Our words hold power, both good and bad. Let’s cut the drama language when it’s not needed. As Gilbert says at the end of her video, “There’s so much we can’t control right now. But we can be mindful of how we speak to people.”

Co-creator of 2 boys with my dream girl • Career coach • Business Insider, Fast Co., INC • Barcelona • Say hi on Linkedin here

Thanks to Brian Pennie, Niklas Göke, George J. Ziogas, and Barry Davret

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