I told myself I wasn’t going to write about this. But this little story has a very important moral, so here it is.
I was out shopping with my mom, sister, and son the other day and when we stopped at a bank ATM, there was a lady stopped at the outdoor teller speaker thing next to us. We were just doing our thing, withdrawing cash my sister needed, when I hear the lady say quite loudly into the speaker, “What? What? Sorry I can’t hear you! The car beside me is REALLY loud.”
My car is old, in need of a muffler job, and not the prettiest thing to look at. But it runs well, is reliable, and it’s paid off. I am not ashamed of the car I drive, because my husband and I have goals that do not include impressing or pleasing other people with our vehicles.
But let me tell you, the disdain in that woman’s voice, her clear disapproval, the way she looked down her nose in judgement of me and my car from her visibly nicer and more expensive one, gave me the yuckiest feeling. I felt irrelevant, brushed aside as a nuisance, and just downright low.
Sure, I know it doesn’t matter what people think. Some random woman’s snooty comment isn’t going to change my life or make me run out and buy a new car. But what strikes me most about this experience is the deep truth that our words do matter.
I talk a lot about how to reform the way we say things, most specifically to mothers, and often I am met with opposition. It’s amazing to me that telling someone that their words are unkind gets responses like “don’t be so thin skinned” or “don’t take it so personally”, or a throwing up of the hands because “you can’t say anything these days without someone getting offended.”
These responses don’t stop me, and having been on the receiving end of so many hurtful comments and questions that are deemed acceptable because they are well-meaning, I greatly desire to encourage others in the reformation of our words.
Our words have deeper effects than we often realize. Our words can build up and edify or tear down lives so fast and so completely. How many children have come home crying or even committed suicide because of the things bullies said to them? How many mothers have drowned in their postpartum depression and anxiety because no one thought to asked them if they were ok? How many families have been torn apart by nasty words spoken in harsh moments?
And how many lives are changed by the healing words of scripture spoken in love by a caring person? How many relationships saved by words like “I’m sorry,” and “I love you”? How many times has your day been made better by someone who took the time to speak life and love into you?
Our words mean something, and when someone says that your words have been hurtful, you don’t get to decide that they weren’t.
You don’t get to hide behind “well meaning” intentions, or “generational advice/comments”. Learn better. Do better.
You don’t get to tell someone that they have no right to be hurt when you are inconsiderate.
You don’t get to tell someone to turn the other cheek or to take one for the team so that you are not made uncomfortable by being told that there’s a better way to say and to ask things.
If something is hurtful, it doesn’t matter how well-meaning it is, or if its just something people have always said. Abuse is still abuse even when its followed by “I love you.”
And here’s the thing…most of us who have the guts to stand up and say that there’s are better things to ask and to say to others, we are literally giving you dozens of examples of what to say instead! We are telling you things like “instead of asking if he’s a good baby, why not ask how the birth went or what baby’s latest milestone is?”, “instead of asking if he’s sleeping through the night, why not ask if you can bring supper over for that tired mama who almost certainly isn’t?”, “instead of asking when she’s going to have kids, ask her how her life is going, what her plans are for the future, or what struggles she’s going through?” And so on and so on. There are no excuses when it comes to learning how to encourage and uplift with our words. We don’t have to just settle into common ways of communicating, simply because it’s easy and it’s what everyone does.
God gave us a beautiful language and the ability to put together words in millions upon millions of different forms. We have the freedom to choose so many ways to speak. We don’t need to consistently and stubbornly settle into the ones we have been told over and over are hurting others.
Be intentional with your words. Seek to be kind and uplifting. Don’t just call everyone a snowflake because they they stand up against your ignorance and unkindness. Be ok with being wrong now and then. Be respectful even if you can’t understand. And like the age old adage that continues to ring true, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
We can do better than this.