There Was a Little Girl...

Words matter.

We live in a world that is fueled by clever one-line Facebook status updates and 140 character tweets.  We send multiple text messages and emails every day.  We use words all the time, but it seems to me that we are sometimes forgetful of the impact that choosing those words can have on those around us. 

Maybe this isn’t an issue for you at all, but it’s something I struggle with on occasion.

I’d say that 99% of the time I am a nice person, and I generally try to be kind to everyone.  I am human though, and sometimes I fail (okay, more than sometimes).  I hurt someone recently with my words.  It wasn’t on purpose, but it happened.  It was one of those knee jerk moments when a ‘clever’ comment came flying into my head one millisecond before it went flying past my lips.  I immediately regretted this thing I said, and the pain it caused; but it was too late.  Once something like that is out there, it’s impossible to pull it back.

The whole scenario reminded of the following scene in the (fantastic) movie, “You’ve Got Mail”:

Joe Fox: [talking via email to "Shopgirl"] Do you ever feel you've become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora's box of all the secret, hateful parts - your arrogance, your spite, your condescension - has sprung open? Someone upsets you and instead of smiling and moving on, you zing them? "Hello, it's Mr Nasty." I'm sure you have no idea what I'm talking about.
Kathleen Kelly: [talking via email to "NY152"] No, I know what you mean, and I'm completely jealous. What happens to me when I'm provoked is that I get tongue-tied and my mind goes blank. Then, then I spend all night tossing and turning trying to figure out what I should have said. What should I have said, for example, to a bottom dweller who recently belittled my existence?
[stops and thinks] Nothing. Even now, days later, I can't figure it out.
Joe Fox: [talking via email to "Shopgirl"] Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could pass all my zingers to you? And then I would never behave badly and you could behave badly all the time, and we'd both be happy. But then, on the other hand, I must warn you that when you finally have the pleasure of saying the thing you mean to say at the moment you mean to say it, remorse inevitably follows.

Sadly, I can sometimes relate to the Joe Fox character in this scene.  I too, have had moments when I said things that displayed the worst possible version of myself.  Among my faults (and believe me, there are many), this is the one I consider most regrettable.  I have no excuse.  I wasn’t raised to be mean.  In fact, when I was a child my parents always taught me to be kind and respectful of others.  They encouraged my brother and I to follow the Golden Rule.  They lived by example, and to this day I am hard pressed to recall a single instance in which one of them ever said an unkind word to the other or to anyone else.  (I know that will sound hard to believe – but I’m not exaggerating.)

However, in spite of a very positive and loving upbringing; I found at a fairly young age that I had a talent for doling out well timed zingers.  Now to be fair, I also feel that I have a talent for kindness (which I’ve inherited from my sweet Mama, and which over the last decade I’ve tried to embrace more fully).  Sometimes though, one of those not so nice comments slips through a crack in the niceness.  In moments like that I feel like one of those Twilight Zone characters who seems perfectly human and nice and normal…. until viewers catch just a glimpse of the alien lurking within.

So the other day, when I hurt the feelings of this person who I truly consider to be a friend, I made a decision.  I apologized of course, but I also decided once and for all it was time to be rid of my inner alien.

This isn’t to say that I sit around all day insulting those around me.  I don’t.  In fact, I’d say that over the years I’ve most certainly mellowed in this department.  But every now and then, one of these zingers slips passed, and I am reminded of just how important words are.  The comments I sometimes made (the come-backs the jabs-the zingers-whatever you want to call them) almost always got a laugh, and I’ll admit I sometimes found a certain thrill in that.  The trouble with the clever come-back however, is that though there may be a moment of satisfaction, it is all too often followed by crushing regret.

This brings me to today, and my decision to make a change.  Not only do I want to slice these “Ms. Nasty” comments from my dialogue, but I also want to ensure that I’m setting a good example for my boys, and being a person my loved ones can be proud to call wife, daughter or friend.  My goal is to think before I speak.  This may sound simple to you, but I’m afraid it may prove quite the battle for me.  No matter.  It will be worth every effort made. 

So, assuming I do take a moment to think before I say something questionable, what exactly will I be ‘thinking’ about?  The new criteria I’m setting for myself is pretty straight forward.  From now on, when one of those ‘clever’ comments pops into my head, I’m going to attempt to use the following internal filters before opening my big mouth (or typing that status update or tweeting or whatever):

  1. Does this comment add value to the conversation?
  2. Will this comment encourage?
  3. Is this comment something I would say if husband/children/parents etc could hear?
If the answer to any of the above questions is “No”, then even if it is terribly ‘clever’, it’s not worth saying.  I know that this will take some practice on my part, but it’s something I feel I need to address head on. 

Truthfully, I should have done it years ago.

1 comment:

  1. From what I know, I think you are a wonderful person with, (words gone right out of my head...oh the joys of meno-brain!).
    You have wonderful family values which do seem to lacking in this world.
    If you retort back, maybe it is more what the other person said that may be at fault. But that 'fault' on either side is surely one of the things that makes us human and the fact that we then worry about having said the wrong thing, even more so.
    I am proud, (no 7 deadly sin connotations please), to call you my friend and hope that the friendship with whoever it is you upset is strong enough for them to put that barb behind them.
    Whoa, hark at me!!!!
    Z xx



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