Use Your Words

When I was a child, sometimes I was told to be quiet. I think a lot of children are. Every time I shush my child I wilt a little inside. I do it anyway. Sometimes the noise is too much but I have to pause and remember he has important things to say, even if they don’t feel important to my grown up self.

When I was a child, I was told to be quiet and to pause, to think before I speak. This was good advice in the right context. Sometimes we need to be heard, uncensored and free. I can be blunt and yes, I know that’s a nice way of saying rude. I’m blunt, especially if I’m comfortable with you. I want to tell you the truth and I really don’t want to sugar coat it because I’m afraid you won’t hear me. I know I can be hurtful because I’ve been hurt. I speak my truth and in the midst of my words I have to pause and remember my truth is not universal. Sometimes I have to be quiet again to avoid hurting others. I’m still learning. This grown up thing is really hard.

When I was a child, there were two settings of anger. You were screamed at or worse, you were ignored. Being ignored is awful. You feel smaller than nothing. Not even worth yelling at. I vowed to never ignore my child, not matter how much anger overwhelms me in those very angry moments that sometimes happen. I also vowed to never yell but I’m still learning.

I want people in my life who listen, who know me and hear me even when I’m quiet so I don’t have to yell. I don’t want to hurt people with my words and as a writer this task has been difficult. As a person communicating with other people (especially those in my immediate comfortable circle) this task is even harder. I know I’ve hurt others with my words, particular moments play on a continuous reel of shame and it burns in my brain. I hate the feeling, knowing something I perceived as no big deal was enough to make another soul feel badly. I feel despair when I hurt someone with words I didn’t know were so powerful.

Words are so important. Words have been biting me for years, nipping at me, leaving tiny marks that never fully heal. They reopen and words pour in again, constantly. They surround all of us because we live in this wide open, everything out there culture. We have leaders and important figures that throw words around like they are nothing and those words are reprinted and repeated forever. They matter. The words we scatter across message boards and comment sections matter. The words our children hear matter, if it is any indication of how much they repeat us. My own child is an avid repeater with a brain that never forgets. When he says something back to me that I recognize as my own hastily spoken words I cringe. He is also a talker. He talks...and talks and talks and talks. And then he talks some more. We are working on listening as much as we talk. We are teaching each other and growing together.

Lack of words leave an even deeper impression, nothingness. Emptiness. Being ignored and unheard is deeply painful. Not speaking or writing the kind and helpful words in our hearts can hurt just as much as shouting the cruel ones.

It’s a difficult balance isn’t it? To not offend, to not critique or hurt but to also maintain your own integrity and truth is challenging. It’s so hard because everyone has a different truth and perception. We all live in our own worlds and realities. Dashing off a thoughtless and hateful comment, whether in person or on some anonymous board, is just adding to the chaos. It’s a learning process but I think we need to find a mix of how we communicate. We can treat communication like a delightful cocktail, sometimes sweet and bitter layered together but ultimately still pleasant. We can pause, we can listen, we can contemplate and think before we speak. We can remember we are all still learning. We don’t know it all. I’m in that space, still learning and correcting myself, deleting and rewriting. I am not speaking every word that comes to my mind and trying to remember to actually say the lovely things out loud. Together we can make an effort to tune in to the vast variety of experiences out there and realize everyone has something to say as well as a right to be heard. We can speak freely and embrace our truth without the intention of hurting each other.

And if our words still hurt another anyway, we can use those two incredibly powerful words:

I’m sorry.