“I kind of think we should consider going to the Moon.” Can you imagine President John F. Kennedy using this sentence in an address to the nation? This is an absurd question, but one worth asking.
History remembers Mr. Kennedy’s actual statement during his speech at Rice University in 1962 as being precise and strong.”We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
If Kennedy had used the wishy washy phrase “kind of”, his address to the students would have been forgettable and uninspiring. We can imagine that the Soviet Union would have been the first to land humans on the Moon. The United States would have been an “also ran” in the annals of time.
The words “kind of” and “sort of” or their slang equivalents “kinda” and “sorta” are showing up in daily speech much more frequently now than in the past. Of course I’m not referring to the use of “kind of” used when categorizing something such as saying that a trout is a kind of fish. I’m thinking of how someone uses “kind of” when saying “I kind of like to eat trout.”
When I hear somebody insert “kind of” into their speech, I hear indecision, wishy washiness, and submissiveness even if the speaker does not intend to project these impressions. Yesterday, during a discussion on a dating and relationships podcast, one of the participants said, “I kinda like her, I kinda wanna date her.”
This lack of precision in his speech annoyed me. I immediately judged him as an indecisive man. I thought, “It’s no wonder he cannot ask a woman out on a date.” If the young man would have eliminated the “kinda” from his vocabulary, his statement would have held more authority and direction. Imagine if he had said, “I like her, I want to date her.” He would appear strong and self-confident.
I hear people using these downplaying phrases a lot these days. I have an hypothesis about the commonality of “kind of” in western culture lately. In my opinion, “kind of” and “sort of” are the manifestations of the noncommittal nature of our society as a whole. It reveals our societal discomfort with ambiguity in these times of instability and mercurial technological changes.
We kind of depend on our employers to employ us until they automate or outsource the work. We kind of depend on Social Security and Medicare until dishonest politicians raid the funds. These situations are unsettling and destabilizing to a nation as a whole and to us, individually. This filters into our tendency to create a lot of wiggle room in our thoughts and speech.
In our banal discussions about the weather or gossip, these fuzzy descriptors give the impression that we lack confidence in our thoughts. The lack of authority and clarity make it easy for us to write people off and not take them seriously. The more frequently “kind of” and “sort of” show up in speech, the more annoying and irritating the words sound.
In our complex, nuanced world, it is refreshing to hear people who use precise descriptions and practice mindful communication skills. We remember the uplifting precision of Mr. Kennedy’s words in 1962 and how they inspired the national effort towards human beings actually walking on the Moon. Our words matter.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the nineteenth century psychologist William James. “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”
We are living in “kind of”, “sort of” indecisive time. We just don’t know from one minute to the next, because situations with people, are crazy.
Also, “like” … has the same sense of imprecision.