Commas

Little things are sometimes big things, or can be, depending on how we see them.

Take a ‘comma’ for instance. It’s so small you might miss it if you’re reading quickly. But, it’s important because as a punctuation mark, its intention is to provide a pause between parts of a sentence. It can also be used to separate items in a list or to mark the place of thousands in a large numeral, like 83,120.

My wife, Maureen, an English major in college, probably knows all of the eight other things a comma can do as it separates parts in a sentence. I confess this makes my eyes glaze over. Which is really okay, because some of my interests do the same thing to her. It seems fair and works for us.

Now back to the comma.

I was thinking about how we could use a comma effectively in our verbal and non-verbal communications.

Imagine that you’re engaged in a conversation with someone and things start to go off the rails. There’s a little heat and you can feel your temper amp up a bit and sense the other person beginning to do the same. Now, imagine being able to insert a comma, a pause between argumentative statements. Your small little comma can save the day and chill things down. All you have to do is stop for a moment and put the comma into action.

Ideally, if both you and the other person did this, you’d likely be able to reset the conversation and find some common ground to restart your dialogue. I realize that sometimes the other person won’t cooperate, but it might be worth using your comma, even just for yourself.

I wonder, what would happen if you disengaged and sat back and thought for a moment? What would they do? Might it be worth trying to see what impact it would have?

I sense the other person would be taken off guard and perhaps, settle down a little. After all, it’s hard to argue with someone who isn’t fighting back.

Or, how about when someone is naming all of the things they think you’re doing wrong. Imagine being able to pause the list until you can catch your breath. That little comma can give you enough time to shift your perspective or get out from under the weight being placed on you.

I wonder, what if each of us could raise our hand as a way of interjecting a non-verbal comma into challenging situations we face?

And, what if the other person had to stop for a moment and give us a chance to consider their words before responding? What might we gain from using the comma this way? Would it create some distance and offer us a greater perspective? Would it lessen the tension and give us a chance to step away?

My personal answer to all of these questions is, ‘yes’.

I see the comma as a small piece of salvation, similar to a reset button. I think it has numerous benefits, not the least of which is encouraging us to slow things down until we’re sure which direction to travel.

Perhaps we can’t influence others to act in ways we find acceptable or helpful, but we can influence our own behaviors and make our own conscious choices, ones that offer us a sense of calmness and peace.

Next time you sense the need for a comma, maybe you’ll want to give it a try and see what happens.

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