I have always prided myself on being careful about what I say. I am not alone in having experienced the hurtful speech of others, so I try very hard to not point my sense of humor at anyone, to not make disparaging remarks or say things that might hurt. I try to never criticize anyone, friends, family or strangers. I do not always succeed however.
There was the time at a wedding rehearsal, when without thinking, obviously I was not thinking, I said to the bride’s father, “Well, if it’s a shotgun wedding, at least it’s a white shotgun!” (Formal wedding). Oh, my gosh, how he managed to not yell, swear or fuss at me, let alone managed to not write to the Bishop and complain, I do not know.
Then there was this “Marcellino Family” thing (or maybe it was jut a Jack and Maggie thing) that I brought into my second marriage. If I did something that my mother didn’t like, but it wasn’t something that was really going to get me in trouble, she would say to my father, “Jack! Speak to your daughter!” and he might say, “Hello, Michele.” Obviously, that was not what she intended. Or, if I had done something equally vexing, she might say to me, “You are just like your father’s people!” (Sorry cousins!)
My husband quickly adapted to that tradition. One day the dog had done something that annoyed him (Sammy, our first beagle) and he said to me, “He is just like your side of the family!” Out of my mouth flew, “That’s right! He’s got hair!” Don’t feel too bad for him, thirty some years later, he has never let me live it down.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, and possibly longer, when children’s feelings were hurt, parents’ usual reply was “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you.” We were taught to say that back to our tormentors. But now we know, it was never true.
Words hurt, unintentional words can hurt, and verbal abuse is genuine abuse. How many spouses, or significant others, have stayed in painful, destructive relationships because, “It’s only words. He/she never hit me.” But their mental health and self image have taken the hit. Words when they are out of our mouths, or keyboards, are not unlike toothpaste. You can get it out of the tube, but you cannot get it back into the tube.
I often wonder in courtroom settings, when a judge addresses a jury and says that a particular statement by an attorney has to be stricken from the record and that it cannot be used in deliberation, how do you unhear something? In the television courtroom dramas, that often seems to be the point.
Now, when many of us, not only in the United States where I live, but many areas in countries around the world are in essential lock down, stay at home, social distancing protocols, our homes have become really small quarters. We are in close proximity to one another with very little chance for alone time. Especially if there are more than two of you. There is another old expression that can apply, but I pray that it does not, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
Tempers are bound to flare, feelings are bound to be hurt. Now would be a good time to develop a strategy. How are you going to respond the next time your spouse, or child or significant other says and does something hurtful? Counting to Ten may help, but not if you are counting by tens! Each person in a house is going to have a different way to cope, but I want to suggest that this is important. Count way past ten. Take a deep breath, go outside if you are able, pray if that is your tradition. This might be a good time to start that tradition, no matter who you are. Color! Phone a friend. Do something nice. Forgive. Make a list, make it work, we are in this for the long haul.
Now, more than ever, you need each other. We need each other and the world still needs love. When I do premarital counseling, we always talk about the wedding ceremony, and plans about what that will look like. But in my counseling sessions and in my wedding homilies I always stress the importance of tangible expressions of love, practicing and expressing gratitude to your spouse. forgiveness and respect.
As I write, I can think of all kinds of song lyrics, but am frankly, too lazy to look up the copyright information, and out of respect for other writers and myself, do not want to quote things that would imperil my blog. But it might be worth checking your “go to” search engine for songs about respect (pretty sure there is at least one!), forgiveness, love, and choosing your words.
The things we say to those we claim to love, our families our friends may be more important than ever in the close quarters we call home. Saying we didn’t mean them is counter-productive and once our words are out, once the email has been sent, or the phrase tweeted, it is like toothpaste. It is out of the tube, and there are no “take backs” that can make up for it.
None of this is easy, but I know Someone who can help us through.
Not holding back the tide,
A postscript for my readers: I try to do two posts a week. As it turns out I have a shoulder injury that requires surgery in a few days. I will try to get one post out a week in the interim. Don’t want to lose you.