Monthly Musing – May 2019 – Words
“This is how I have heard what you’ve just said, did you mean it to sound like that?”
One of the conversations that we have had more than once with both our girls as they have been (and still are) negotiating teenage social conversations is to think about how their words are heard by someone else. This might sound like an odd conversation to have with your teenage daughter, but it’s one that we’ve felt has been important over the years; a variation of “think before you speak”.
One of the hardest things about conversations is that often we have no idea of the impact of what we might say on the other person. Our words, however well-intentioned, are always heard by someone else through the understanding of their own experiences. A recent conversation that I had with someone pushed all kinds of emotional buttons and had me transported back to a particularly unpleasant high school class with a speed and clarity that took my breath away. Of course, the person I was speaking to might have had a bad day themselves, or someone or something might have pushed their own buttons, and they would certainly not have realised that I might be more sensitive than others to a particular way of speaking because of my own teenage encounters, but it was still an upsetting experience. My adult self knows that it’s OK, that I actually earn my living from that subject these days (ha! one in the eye for you, horrible high school teacher!) and that there will have been no offence intended (hopefully) but it still took a couple of days to recover my equilibrium and remember that I’m not thirteen any more.
With the international focus on mental health awareness this week, this experience has reminded me to be more mindful of what I’m saying to others. It’s so tempting when we’ve been hurt by someone to snap back and to try to make the other person hurt as much as you, particularly if we’re feeling emotionally vulnerable ourselves, but if they were unaware of any of the “behind the scenes” stuff going on in your head then that isn’t fair. Instead, I am trying to remember to be kind, and to step out of my own hurt feelings to question why someone might have spoken as they did – and why I might have reacted as I did. Obviously, if someone is deliberately trying to provoke me then that’s a different story (and it’s often foolish to provoke someone who usually has knitting needles in their hands!), but I feel that the majority of conversations we have are with someone else who is dealing with their own life complications and hasn’t thought (or doesn’t know) about ours.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, I’m reminded of a line from the 2015 Disney remake of Cinderella: “Have courage and be kind”. Applying that to “think before you speak” isn’t always easy, but it won’t hurt me to try – or my girls to see me trying.