The Trouble With Words
I’d really love to report to you that I have some deep new insight on words and communication today, but I don’t. I only have these smashed-up, over-used, trite phrases and thoughts that you’ve all heard before.
Currently I’m praying desperately for insight as to how to make this broad and open-ended topic (therefore, easy to write about, right?) interesting, fresh, new.
And can I tell you something, honestly?
I’m coming up with nothing.
Nothing meaning that, I think I’ve written 7 or 8 different drafts and they are all terrible. Terrible, car-wreck sort of bad. It’s really, really entertaining that I call myself a writer on days like these.
So, as I sit here, (this is draft 9 in case you’re counting), thinking very wistfully and hopefully that this means that my writing can only get better (or at the very least I can get out of this bad writing funk) I’m thinking that the only one of these pieces that will actually work, that will bring some sort clarity to this subject is my personal journey with words, so here goes it.
Words, love them as I may, get me into trouble.
Not trouble, like oops! Little Johnny’s in the cookie jar! Not the sweet, innocent forgivable trouble, but trouble, as in Johnny’s just stuffed all the cookies down into his shirt and has intentionally pushed the porcelain cookie jar over the edge of the counter just to watch it shatter into pieces.
Oh yes. Trouble.
Back in the day, I was a gossip. I probably still am now, though I do hope I’ve redeemed a bit of myself, learned from my hard, fast, and baptized-by-fire lessons. Though, some days I’m not so sure; some days it just feels sort of tamed, and a lot like being, I imagine, what a recovering addict feels like-you need a whole lot of grace and support and God and constant reminders to get through the day without slipping up.
In high school, I was a good friend, but I told secrets. In college, more or less the same, though I have to say my good friend skills were a little lacking, and told more secrets. Early on in my career, a little less of a good friend, and again, more secrets, and then I added in the enticing extras — a lot of talk, gossip, and judgment about how others carried on, more concentrating on the how they carried on than concentrating on the how I carried on.
And several times, I would even venture to say a little more than a handful of times, I got caught. Caught saying bad things about my friends. Caught saying negative things. And in one incident, I was apparently so negative that I had to sit in my manager’s office and listen to a lecture about why my behavior was not appropriate, her angry tone and many angry words thrown at me like daggers.
I’d love to say that I didn’t deserve that, that it was too harsh, but truth is, I needed to hear it about my words and actions. Whether of course, I wanted to hear it or not. I will be authentic in letting you know I did not like hearing it at all, especially at that moment.
But that experience, the one where I felt such a deep sense of shame and embarrassment was actually the turning point, a pivotal moment for me.
I had to do something about this, I finally realized. I had to stop hurting other people’s feelings. Just because I was in a bad mood that day, didn’t mean I had the luxury of taking others down with me. I had to somehow find or summon some strength to put on a positive game face, and I will have you know that this is not easy for me. I’m nothing if not truthful, and if you must know, my natural personality airs on more of the grumpy side than the wake-up-with-sunshine side.
But what I had I finally realized was that I affected other people with my words, hurt them even, people I loved, and I realized I was going to need to change, because degrading others is not what I wanted to do, to be known for.
Change was hard. Change still is hard. And took forever. And it meant I had to make different, uncomfortable choices like, as much as it would have been so delicious to have the last say, the last cutting and snappy remark about a celebrity’s outfit or someone else’s choices in life, I was going to have to leave it alone, walk away. Be brave and look stupid and judgmental for walking away, because I just couldn’t handle the temptation to cut someone else down to the size I thought they needed to be in order to make myself feel less insecure.
That was and still is the hardest thing to do today — walk away. Especially when it is so easy to fall into the vortex, the endless pit of comparison, and it tastes so good for that moment to demean someone else, to tell him or her what’s wrong with their lives, what’s wrong with their personhood, essentially.
Because gossip and all that entails is reducing another person in order to make yourself feel better, to somehow feel more secure about yourself, your life and your choices. And it’s a nasty, vicious cycle to get into, because the more you do it, the more you need it, and the more you need it, the worse you feel until you walk away from it for a while, and then you return again, and it’s like getting on a fast-moving ferris wheel after not sleeping enough and eating too much fried food. It just does not feel good.
And sometimes — I’ll admit it, I fall into the trap. I’ll glance at the magazines, I’ll watch (and judge) the reality show of the moment, and don’t even get me started on Wife Swap. If it’s on I just need to turn it off and find something much more entertaining to do or take up knitting, or rocket building, or some sort of engrossing hobby immediately as that show is a trap for me.
But here’s the growth: talking about people now, the subject I so loved to chat about in the past, well, now I feel incredibly bad the next hour, the next day, sometimes even the next several days. It feels as if I’ve smashed that cookie jar all over again, and smiled as it shattered. I feel remorse and guilt. And that’s a good thing, I’m convinced. It means I have convictions and perhaps a little of God’s tugging on my sleeve, telling me that I can rise above the constant chatter that makes people feel belittled and worthless. It means I can finally move toward the person I want to be: the person who chooses to think of them as good, to think of them as God’s children. Because they are. Because we all are.
What I’d apparently unlearned about friendship and words in all those years since elementary school was this: that people are people. They are human, are real, are delicate, have flaws, and very real wounds. And by talking about them in negative ways, I was just reducing their humanity and I wasn’t helping to build them up.
And when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of it, how would I want someone to treat me? With grace and dignity? Or with scowls and whispers and hidden shared secrets every time I walked up to a group of people?
We should chose words wisely, we know this. We need to use words to build each other up, not tear down. Again, this is not a new concept here.
Insightful? World-changing idea? No.
But powerful, and the right thing to do? Absolutely.
Love your writing!