I am wearing a dress today. This is not an abnormal occurrence, but I am wearing a dress that I have not been able to wear for some time. The last time I wore this particular outfit, a person who was in a position of authority over me professionally made comments to me about how the dress fit my figure, followed by stating I should wear more outfits that fit in the same way.
This comment was made in front of a room full of coworkers and was inappropriate in every way. Even more than being unprofessional, the comment changed the way I felt about myself that day.
I had walked into the building feeling confident and sure of myself. I left the building feeling defeated and honestly more than a bit embarrassed.
Since that time, everytime that I have attempted to put the same dress on, trying to recapture that feeling of confidence, I instead felt only the defeat.
Our words do that, in ways that we may not recognize.
There was a boy in my high school whose locker was next to mine. He would “tease” me every day about the same few things: my height, my hair color, my freckles. None of these I could change. It was not flirting. It was closer to bullying. It left that same feeling in my stomach.
Twenty years later, I am certain that he has absolutely no idea. He may not even remember the interactions, but when I hear his name, I have to fight the urge to become defensive.
We all have a story that is similar to this.
It may not be the inappropriate supervisor or the kid with the locker two doors down, but it is someone. Someone who made an off-handed comment that meant nothing to them at the time, but may have affected how you thought or felt about yourself.
In some situations, like the dress, it is a temporary situation that you eventually are able to move past. In others, like the boy with the locker, the effects are longer lasting.
I tell my children to be careful with their words, that they do not know the impact they are having.
What affect your words having on those around you? Do your words help move people to a better version of themselves, or do they leave them feeling defeated?
The supervisor will never change, and that is fine. It is who he is.
The boy with the locker has grown into an adult. He is now a husband, father, successful in business. We have run into each other professionally. He has no idea what the casual words he said in his youth did, of this I am certain. I also am fairly confident that if he did know, the adult version of him would be embarrassed. I will not do that to him, it is not necessary.
Our words are like paint brushes that leave marks on everything they touch. For better or worse. We don’t get to choose which ones get remembered and which ones make an impact. We don’t get to choose which ones get swept under the rug and ignored.
As parents, the responsibility is even greater. I am part of a very sarcastic generation. We could almost be considered bilingual with how quickly sarcasm flows from our mouths.
When speaking to my children, I find myself catching words as they leave my mouth and cringing. The tone was a bit too harsh. The words a held a bit too much bite. I stop. I correct. I apologize. I restate what I meant to say, without the tone.
I do not want the words that are painted on them to be harsh. The world is harsh enough as it is, we need to add some kindness in.
We talk about the tone of voice in our house a lot. Two teenagers, one tween, and one late elementary aged child lead to plenty of hormones and even more short comments.
It seems that every interaction has some level of sarcasm, edge, or roughness to it. It feels like they are always on the defensive.
They are asked to rephrase their last sentence several times a day. They are told to choose kind words throughout the day. Sometimes it is effective, sometimes it is not. The goal is to make them more conscious of the words as they leave their mouths, and what impact they may be painting on others.
Words matter, we need to be careful to make them count.