Be Careful With Your Words
Words. It’s amazing how much power words have. They can be used to heal, to destroy, to build, to create, and to wound. Twenty-six letters in the English alphabet and all can be used in ways you cannot imagine. They inspire, they give meaning to things, they cause wars, and they build walls. Knowing this I always try to choose my words carefully when writing. I try to pick out the words that evoke an emotion in me so that I can evoke that same emotion in my reader. I want you to be able to feel what I am feeling, or what I felt. And when you read my words, or other’s words, you have a response. Maybe not what was intended, but you have a response, don’t you?
The trouble with words, however, is that we use them so often in anger and in the heat of passion, and we say things we may not intend to say. We say something like “I didn’t mean to say that,” but we did say it. We did mean to say it, or else we would not have said it. It’s what we were thinking after all. What we did not mean to do was hurt someone. But we do. How often do we hurt those we care about in our anger? All the time.
I consider myself the type of person who tries to think before they speak when angry. Most of the time when I’m angry I just won’t say anything. There isn’t really much to say because what I’ve noticed is that when people are angry, one person in the argument just wants to hear themselves talk. This is also translated into “they want to be heard.” They have something to say and they think you can’t hear them, that you aren’t listening to them, and that you don’t care. So, I let them yell. I let them rant and get it out. I try not to respond but I have an Irish temper at times and, though I do control it very well, every so often I lose my patience, especially when I feel I am being verbally abused. Nothing will provoke me more than someone telling me or making me feel as if I’m stupid, that I’m a child, and treating me that way. Especially in an argument. Even then, I try to watch my words. I bite my tongue. There are things that I could say back to people that would wound, and I know how to do that. But I don’t. I know how it feels, and I know that it won’t do the least bit of good. The problem becomes that this treatment is usually not returned back. How do you deal with that?
When I was growing up with my two younger sisters, my mom and step-dad had labels for us. My sister Sharon was the “Trouble Maker.” She was always trying to start something. It didn’t matter what. There was a reason for why she was that way, but that is not my story to tell. My baby sister Sylvia was the “Pot Stirrer.” She just kept things going. It was attention and she was the baby. I was usually the “Peace Maker,” but I preferred harmony. I hated, and still hate, conflict. I know we can’t all have peace, but I do think there are better ways of handling things rather than arguing and fighting all the time. I can’t stand it. I really can’t. Having four boys I am policing arguments all the time. Usually these aren’t physical but lately it seems that my 14 year old and my 9 year old are just constantly at each other. This week has been really rough. I know they are just being boys and it’s the age difference, but my god, I am slowly going insane with the noise.
The thing about all of this is that the words we use can cut so deeply that you can literally scar someone for life. The one thing you should know about me is that it does take a lot to make me mad, and I don’t mean angry. Angry is smaller than mad. Angry is like finding out your sister wore your favorite skirt and stretched it out so far beyond belief that you can never wear it again. Mad is when she cuts that skirt up or breaks every one of your vinyl LP albums. (Yes, my sister wore my skirt and stretched it out; the others did not happen at all, just an example.) When I get mad, it’s usually because I know what you are doing is wrong and you need to pay attention. I think I’m a pretty patient person, too, so when I’m mad, you’ve managed to make me lose my patience as well. I’m telling you this to tell you this story. The very first, and one of the only times, I ever yelled at my parents happened when I was around 16 years old. Of my sisters and I, both myself and my baby sister excelled in school. Sharon did not. She has ADD. She struggled so much in school and just never seemed to be able to make the kind of grades Sylvia and I did. I always felt bad for her when grades came in for the 6 weeks. While Sylvia and I were praised and rewarded, Sharon was lectured every time. This one particular day, however, I was in my room trying not to listen to my mom and step-dad talk to her. Soon, though, I noticed she wasn’t just being lectured, she was being berated, horribly so. I started becoming angry, and then I heard my sister being told she was stupid, and I completely lost it. Now I was raised that you don’t question your parents, you don’t talk back to them, and you sure as hell don’t yell and call them on their actions. I came out of my room and I took one look at my sister sitting in her chair. She was slumped down and crying and all I could think was “how dare they!” Before I knew what I was doing I was verbally attacking my parents. I told them they had no right to call her stupid because she wasn’t. She had problems, and comparing her to Sylvia and I was incredibly unfair and how dare they do that. Sharon is not me, she is not Sylvia, and she can only be Sharon. Sharon was smart in her own way and they should never call her stupid ever again. And then I realized what the hell I was doing and I went back to my room and stayed there for the rest of the night, expecting some very severe punishment for what I did. Nothing happened. My parents never punished me. We never talked about it either. What did happen is that they stopped calling Sharon stupid and they did stop comparing her to me and Sylvia. When report cards came in after that, they were careful with what they said to her. But I’ve never forgotten my sister’s face when she was called stupid. Having been called stupid myself by others, I know what she felt like then. I’ve never regretted standing up for her like that, and I’d do it again even if my parents were to have burned me alive for it. (They wouldn’t. That’s Texas exxageration.)
Words can wound. But they can also heal. The best two words you can say at any point in an argument is “I’m sorry.” It shouldn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. Say those two simple words, and watch how quickly the argument becomes a discussion. Say those two words over and over again until the other person calms down. Say it no matter how you feel. Be sincere. Insincerity is so easily discerned so be completely sincere when saying ‘I’m sorry.” If my ex-husband had learned to say that to me instead of trying to be right all the time, who knows what might have happened. I’ve learned, though, that being the only one to apologize in an argument all the time tends to have repurcussions as well, but I still try to say I’m sorry even when I know I will never hear those words from the other person. Also, remember to apologize to your children when you are getting onto them. You are the adult and they are just kids. They don’t have the experience you do. They are still learning, and, as adults, we tend to be overly critical of our kids when they make mistakes. Remember that they have this time to make mistakes. Our job is to teach them how to handle making little mistakes (and some big ones) before they become adults and their big mistakes become accountable ones. Try to be patient with them. Yelling at them really does not do any good other than making them feel horrible about themselves. Believe it or not, but we don’t automatically go deaf during an argument. Yelling loudly does not get your point across any better than speaking calmly. In fact, yelling makes me want to cover my ears and ignore you because you are actually hurting my hearing. Plus, it leads to more yelling, and worse.
Please, think about your words before you have your next argument. Try to remember that whoever it is you are arguing with may not actually deserve to be hurt, or wounded, or destroyed. Remember, we all have the power to use words. You have a choice how to use those words. Try to use your words to heal, to care, and to love.