This is part of my series on How To Be A Good Person.

My kids love sweets. Given a chance, they’d inhale Hi-Chews and gobble jelly donuts by the pound. Every day. So, I set limits.

But every Saturday, we go to the grocery store and the kids pick out a small “Saturday treat,” which is usually a box of candy. (We often get other treats as well, like chips, popcorn, and French bread. I’m not a complete curmudgeon!)

Most of the time, my kids quickly decide what they want. Swedish Fish and Milk Duds are popular choices. But on occasion, they’re indecisive and list what they don’t want, e.g., “I don’t want gumdrops ‘cuz they all taste the same.” I remind my kids that listing what they don’t want doesn’t help anyone. I say, “Tell me what you do want.”

This focus on specifying what they do want is called Positive Action Language1. Or PAL for short.

Now, I encourage my kids to use PAL in every aspect of life. What game do you want to play? What do you want for Christmas? What movie do you want to see?

Furthermore, I want everyone to use Positive Action Language. Life would be so much simpler if folks knew what they wanted and were upfront about it.

Consequently, I try to use PAL and be frank about what I want. But it’s not my default setting! I’m the first one to call out things I don’t like, e.g., disrespectful behavior. But it takes real effort to articulate what I do like.

And because I sometimes struggle to spell out what I do want, I strive to be compassionate when others are clueless about what they want. Even with simple things, like what we should get for the “Saturday treat.”


  1. Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg discusses Positive Action Language and numerous other tools to improve relationships.