Having an answer to your questions has never been easier. Besides Wikipedia and Google showing the most recent stories on any given topic, we have users contributing with discussions which most of the time appear on the page according to how people are responding, and it’s not like we’re in the beginning of adaptation to social media, where trending was a completely new word, or at least referred to a new context. But you might hear someone ask you to look it up yourself, get your facts, call you names for what you’re sharing because they don’t like where it’s coming from or start an offensive on you because of how you chose to express yourself or what you’re reproducing. On a different level, schools now understand that class preparation involves looking up information online, society responds faster in organized outrage or support, depending on the case, along with other feelings that are now labeled and dealt with in a new standard, but you don’t see parents skipping a conversation with their kids because the media, new and old, is going to give them a better answer — on the contrary. What we should be aware of, along with social background, is that some of what we want to know is curiosity, while some of the solutions for how to fix problems really depend on people who are looking for the answers instead of waiting on them; but on a personal level, it’s important to wait for relationships to mature before you develop expectations of an honest reply or someone doing you a favor. Think about these examples:
“What can I say?”
Someone tells you a story about what they’re going through. It’s difficult for them to open up, so they decided to do it with you, who they barely know, but it’s easier to talk to someone who won’t judge them and they won’t have to see day after day, depending on the case. It could be anything: if you just started talking, they could send you a meme but you don’t know what it’s about; a song, but you never heard of the artist; a picture, but you don’t like talking like that; a link, but you don’t have the time to go through it; they might be calling you to talk to someone and tell you what’s on their mind, but you’ve got problems of your own, so it’s a little overwhelming to listen and you don’t know how to help. Instead of providing them with an answer, maybe it’s best to say you don’t know how to respond — ignoring isn’t great, but there’s so many people who want us to give them attention that maybe it’s not that bad if you just claim the time for yourself, cause nobody said answering is your obligation.
“Can I ask you something?”
You’re talking to your best friend. They heard about you getting accepted in college, and they know how hard it is to get in, with millions competing for the same chance to study there and a very demanding test. But you know you both live in a different city, and it’s tough to save money to do basic things. It might be uncomfortable, but you need to ask what they’re going to do if they have to move. Of course, the context is just to help you understand that some questions should be properly introduced, but we know it could just come up in the conversation. It’s not insulting if you tell your friend you got approved and instead of congratulating you they ask if you have an apartment. If you say you do, then they’ll be happy for you, cause that means they’re thinking about what really matters and they’re not just talking to sound interested. Maybe they’ll try to help you with the process, asking if you have a fridge at home for the time you’ll spend in the dorm, edit your resume when you’re looking for your first job, hang out with you around the city. In any case, that kind of question is about whether or not they want to talk about stuff. It could be something else, but asking first involves thinking about how important it is to talk about it and how sensitive the topic is.
“We tell each other everything”
I honestly can’t remember what it’s like to be in a relationship where we both know what the other is doing, cause we’re always together. To be fair, I do remember, but I just can’t see it happening the same way after at least a decade of distractions. Maybe I’m a jealous guy, but that doesn’t mean I need to know where you are, at what time, with who, how often. But I can always ask. If we’re supposed to meet for lunch but you can’t come, a simple message will do. I won’t be thinking about it the whole day. But if I invited you for Christmas Eve with my family and you said that wasn’t a good idea, then I’ll try to understand, but we’re talking about it later. If we don’t, we’re a weird couple. Just tell me your mom thought you didn’t care about spending time together anymore and she was frustrated last time you came home and left after an hour, so you’ll make it up to her. Of course, it’s important to talk about other stuff too, but the things we choose not to talk about can amount to a lot, and most of the time, we show signs of how we really feel in the little things we do or say.
“I don’t know how to answer”
You shared a link on Facebook talking about a geopolitical conflict. It’s something you were interested in, but actually you just thought it was time for a change on your page, cause you started thinking people didn’t take you seriously. Then you dad saw it, and wanted to show you a video with a completely opposing view. You’re not gonna ask if he clicked the link, but you know he saw what you posted and if the point was sharing, you know you have to listen to his side. Then he talks on and on about things that the link you shared was not mentioning, but you think it shouldn’t be the focus of the topic. Sometimes, we keep quiet: most of the things we see on our feed, like a lot of things in life, we just ignore. But your dad is asking for your attention and you need to say something back. Except you don’t feel like it at all. So you don’t, cause you don’t wanna pick up a fight. That happens more than you think. It’s important that we answer, but we’d like to believe that being always ready to have a long discussion on any issue at hand is not mandatory, so we might wanna skip it.
“If you want trust, don’t lie”
As we have to deal with more and more complex social lives and an overload of information, seeing different sides of things, people and the relationships we have with them is a natural process. But when we say one thing here and another there, it shows a lack of consistency, which sometimes can be interpreted as lack of character, though it’s not our intention to mislead anyone. People lie, including people who are responsible for a message with a lot of reach; but if there’s anything you’re not telling and it’s important that you’re on the same page, maybe it’s time to talk about it, instead of keeping your thoughts to yourself and the facts hidden so other people can’t learn about them — ideally, though not everyone is interested in learning about the good and the bad.
These verbs can have a completely different context, but asking and answering both make you more actively involved with language, so you can shape your perceptions based on what you want to know and what you learn, but also how people feel. When someone asks you a difficult question, you’ll find yourself having trouble answering, but if you’re talking about using your second language, it’s crucial to understand there’s a set of things at play when you try to pick words in a way that is true to who you are and what you think while bridging differences in culture and identity.