I take it for granted that people who consider themselves to be adults understand the ability and power of words, and act responsibly when they use their words. But I am naive. Or forgetful: inside many adult bodies, doing adult-type things are children who have never grown up, who are emotionally frozen at point in their development due to events and words that have kept them there, even as their physical self grows.
We learn pretty quickly as kids that words are the most potent weapons in the human arsenal and are sometimes used to soothe, transform, uplift and other times used to discourage, dismiss, silence, eviscerate or destroy. Many parents dip into that arsenal. So do friends, peers, teachers, lovers, partners. Spouses. Strangers.
I can’t peek into other people’s brains to understand why they think it’s okay to use words to demean another human being; to intentionally make another person feel small, unimportant. It’s cruel and unforgivable: I have never understood why people open their mouths to say something they regret 10 minutes later, that they ask to be forgiven for; something said in anger, something said in hurt, something said to demonstrate a certain imagined superiority, something said to intentionally cause harm.
“I didn’t mean it.”
It was meant at the time. That the time has changed and so has perspective is moot. The damage is done, the trust is broken. Words haunt. Words can cut and scar and kill and now with the internet, words can live forever, long after they’ve left fingertips and can come back in that instant karma way that is rather sad to witness.
It’s true that no one’s perfect. But it is also true that adults have an ability to control what they say and do in ways that children do not. If they are adults.
After seeing so much emotional damage done by supposedly seemingly intelligent people over the years, and after witnessing a recent tirade on the street where one of those chi-chi mother types with the $1,200 strollers berated (read: yelled at and humiliated) her young son for wanting to stay at the park longer and telling him how stupid he is, two things struck me:
- some people really should have licenses to be allowed to have children no matter what social class they think they are, because bad behaviour and dysfunction is typically magnified with each successive generation, manifesting differently, and
- we need a credo for today’s mad, wacky, crazy wonderful world full of social media, instant messaging and the ever increasing lack of thinking before opening one’s mouth or hitting the send button.
Because I have determined we need this, I have taken the liberty of creating one: Be good with your words: do not say to others what you would not want said to you.
Granted, it does sound like the golden rule, but for some reason the golden rule seems to be old-fashioned and out of date and is only being supported by Karen Armstrong’s work with the Charter for Compassion organization. I think the golden rule is just fine thank you, but I also think more thought is needed about how we use our words and what we do with them since it seems people have forgotten that words have meaning and impact long after actions are over.
Of course in many ways, it doesn’t matter how you use your words with some people. Some people can’t hear for the loud voices in their head. And some can only hear when a thing is yelled.
And there are those who do not want to hear, those who cannot bear a truth even when told gently, or are narcissistic to the point of delusion or simply do not care.
At the end of the day, you don’t do a good thing for other people or for brownie points. It’s the Ghandi thing: be the change you want to see: you do it because it is the good thing to do: be a force for good in all possible ways, starting with the words you use and how you deliver them.