Recently, I have been called a string of expletives. And not as term of endearment, if you know what I mean. Not like, “Back off. That’s my bitch.” Although that sounds pretty icky, too. No, this was a personal attack. And unfortunately, this was not the first time; I have been a target for this kind of behavior since I was a young teenager.
When verbally attacked like this, it takes all my strength to keep my integrity intact. It goes against my upbringing, really. See, I grew up in a loud family, and whoever yelled the loudest and the most abrasive usually won.
I usually lost.
Anyway, when this perpetrator has exorcised all the venom, it is quite clear that I am hurt; I am shaky, and I avoid eye contact. I try to keep my cool by counting until 152 because even though there is an empty space in the conversation which traditionally would be filled with a vicious retaliation, I wait for the final phrase that signifies the end of the “discussion:”
“Why are you so upset? It’s only words, Erin.”
This final attack outrages me almost more than being called a bitch or a retard.
Words are so important to me. My love affair with them started at an early age as I devoured any book that I could get my hands on. I started journaling at age seven. Blank pages made my eyes twinkle and my heart race with the excitement of endless possibilities.
I try to choose my words very carefully, and not just because I love them as my true medium of expression. I understand, and maybe more importantly respect, the power of words. Words express our thoughts, our intentions. Having said that, I do take responsibility for my tendency to expect others to choose their words wisely. Sometimes I get hurt when the right words are not used; I think that is called being oversensitive. That aside, I do understand the importance of practicing patience if someone misspoke. I have tried not to jump to conclusions and ask questions first if someone is having a difficult time expressing themselves.
But vicious name-calling isn’t a slip of the tongue. It’s hurtful. It reopens old wounds. And it’s downright confusing when the conversation is supposed to be centered around healing and understanding. And don’t even get me started on the confusion and anxiety I feel when people’s words don’t match up with their actions.
I am trying to teach the importance of words to my kids. I am trying to show by example that practicing kindness is important. And the loudest yeller with the meanest thing to say isn’t the winner. I think the word that describes that person is a bully. My kids know that bullying is not tolerated. At all. Or in the carefully chosen words of Taylor Swift, “Like, ever.”
So, yeah, words are important to me.
How important are words to you?