OPINION: 3 phrases that will set you free in 2023

2022 was the year I got fed up with people pontificating loudly – radio talk show hosts and guests, talking heads on TV, debating politicians, ruling politicians, friends, former friends, family members at family gatherings, protesters, students, parents, airplane passengers — and, of course, on social media. It became exhausting. I wanted to disengage, unplug, back out, back off.

But I also have a lifetime of interacting with people when it’s been exhilarating, poignant, joyous, hilarious, thoughtful, thought-provoking, kind, tender, even sublime. I don’t want to give that up. So, I’ve been thinking about how to leave the drawbridge down but also not get wrapped around people’s nonsensical axles.

I’m not talking about conflict resolution. Google that and you’ll get suggestions, like:

“I sense that you’re feeling emotional about this topic. Is that right?”

“Thank you for your honesty. I appreciate your input.”

“Help me understand where you’re coming from.”

“What I heard you say is… Did I get that right?”


“Let’s agree to disagree.”

I understand these may be useful when you must resolve a conflict with people you can’t completely disengage from.

I’m talking about phrases that will set you free — that will give you the satisfaction of expressing yourself but offer no invitation to respond, after which you can walk away.

Note: I’m not addressing online interactions. I do not Facebook, Tweet, Instagram or TikTok. Apparently, 2022 was just as exhausting to many online. Amanda Marcotte, senior editor for Salon, wrote a commentary about that. For online interaction, she suggested:

“Not every provocation deserves a response. False accusations … and over-the-top hysterics … can be met with an eye roll or by pressing the ‘mute’ button. Better yet, close the app or the browser window. Read an article — or maybe even a book! Take a walk. Have a real conversation with an actual human. Call a relative. You’ll soon find out that, freed from the algorithm that encourages sanctimonious posturing and pointless conflict, much of what seems so important on social media actually doesn’t matter at all.”

Here are three “set you free” phrases for in-person aggravations.

No: 1. We’ve all had to deal with stupid rules, beginning in school. The punishment for skipping school? Suspension. Often these minor infractions are enforced by miniature tyrants whose only power is enforcing them. Think “teacher’s pet” class monitors as adults in your office. Like a manager going on a witch hunt because one employee told another employee who sneezed, “Bless you.”

Another situation calling for the first set-you-free-in-2023 phrase is when someone is obsessing about something that just isn’t very important in the cosmic scene of things – like how dissociative they feel since their favorite lipstick was discontinued.

Or someone is clueless about their insular life – like a billionaire returning from an exclusive resort in an impoverished country remarking how poor people in America don’t know what real poverty is.

Freeing phrase No. 1 is, “Really? Seriously? Wow.” Deliver this in a sincere, almost mystified tone. They likely won’t even get it. That’s OK. You do.

No. 2.: This is for people whose “I”s are too close together. Whether it’s their Christmas newsletter or conversation at a party, they’re dominating with reports of their raises, promotions, extraordinary kids, expensive car, international vacation, jewelry, art and house.

Freeing phrase No. 2 is, “How very nice for you.” This may be delivered archly. Think Dorothy Parker. Do you really care if these people are left knowing you’re on to them as you walk away?

No. 3.L For anyone else you get caught with who’s rude, adamantly opinionated, closed-minded, obstreperous, presumptuous, obnoxious, or stupid, there’s, “Bless your heart.”

I first heard this as an assistant district attorney in Anchorage in the late 1980s. It was employed by a lovely-in-every-way paralegal from Texas in her gracious southern drawl. It covered the full range from people warranting pity to those who were despicable. In the intervening decades, it’s become a more mainstream, recognizable putdown. I still find it stops an offender short and gives me time to freely disengage.

Recalling the best “Bless your heart” I’ve ever known always makes me smile. Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Eric Spitzer was the deputy commander of the Department of Public Safety Training Academy in Sitka where I was an adjunction instructor. Spitzer was leading recruits on a prelunch, 11 a.m. “motivational” training run and sounding off cadence. Apparently, an island resident thought that was too early in the day to be so inspired and he began shouting at and cursing them.

Spitzer, ever ready for any teaching opportunity, waved at the man and shouted, “Bless your heart, sir. Keep right on exercising your First Amendment right.”

May you kick off your 2023 with a smile.


Val Van Brocklin is a former state and federal prosecutor in Alaska who now trains and writes on criminal justice topics nationwide. She lives in Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Val Van Brocklin

Val Van Brocklin is a former state and federal prosecutor in Alaska who now trains and writes on criminal justice topics nationwide. She lives in Anchorage.