Challenge Accepted: Being Mindful of My Words

I am not the self-help book kind of gal. I never read The Secret, I forcefully avoided The Rules, and thought He’s Just Not That Into You was pretty demeaning, though I understood the sentiment behind it and the genre as a whole. However, many years ago, while avoiding doing homework, I picked up a copy of The Four Agreements and started thumbing through it. Honestly, I don’t remember much about the book, but one thing stuck with me then and has stayed with me throughout the years: “Be mindful of your words.” It made me start to think about the things I would say to others without any consideration for how those words would affect them, and how many things had been said to me in the same vein. Idle comments, throw-away statements that one doesn’t think twice about that can have a deep, lasting, and cutting effect on the person they are inflicted on.

For example, my brothers had a nickname for me when I was a child that included the adjective “hairy.” While I am definitely hairier than the average lady, the hair on my arms and legs is blond, so I am lucky on that front. Unfortunately, being called hairy throughout my entire childhood has left me with some deep insecurities about my body hair that I’m pretty sure are never going to go away and will keep leading me on search after costly search for the best way to remove it. I waste way too much time and energy on this, all because my brothers needed an extra word to complete my WWF style nickname (we watched way too much wrestling as children).

I have felt myself growing more conscious of this lately, mostly because of blogs like this, because being a part of the community here means being compassionate, open-minded, and willing to acknowledge when something you have said hurts someone, whether you intended to or not. For example, I have tried (I admit, not always successfully) to stop using the word “crazy” to describe a multitude of behaviors, which I readily admit I naively didn’t realize was hurtful to people. I have found, however, that this is easier to do here, surrounded by people who congregate because of a sense of commonality, than in the “real world,” meaning both the actual world around me and other blogs, where many people feel they are being attacked by the “language police” should you dare to suggest they may have been hurtful.

While the impulse is to berate people for callousness, to call out inconsiderate jerks on their behavior, I have found that this whole “being mindful of your words” thing is typically a more effective approach. Going back to the word “crazy,” there was an article I was writing a few months ago that I was going to title “My Crazy, Zany Family” or something along those lines, using “crazy” in a general sense of the word. I stopped myself early on and realized the title could be taken as hurtful, so I changed it. When discussing it with my husband, he started to get on the “language police” train, but stopped when I explained that there was no reason to use a term that could be taken by anyone as hurtful when it wasn’t necessary to the narrative. In fact, it wasn’t even creative. There were many other words that were better descriptors of what I was going for, none of which were derogatory to someone with a history of mental illness. The catch-all way in which the word has been used to describe things is so broad that it doesn’t even give someone an good idea of what one is really trying to say.

I titled this article “Challenge Accepted” because I am challenging myself to really think about the things I say before they are out of my mouth and it is too late. I have a tendency to be a bit of an asshole sometimes (all right, a lot of the times), and I have seen a recent increase in the people around me saying things to others they end up regretting. It is easy to spew hurtful things, easy to take the low road, and easy to shout the first thing that pops into one’s head. I think it is much harder to be self-reflective and really think about the impact of our words and our opinions on those around us. It is much harder to think about other’s feelings than it is to satisfy our own. I am challenging myself to make my life a little harder in the hopes that it may make someone else’s a little easier, and in doing so, perhaps change my tendency to be too negative at times.

Anybody with me? Are there challenges you’ve given yourself, either lately or in the past, that you feel have helped you become a better person?


One reply on “Challenge Accepted: Being Mindful of My Words”

I’ve gotten so much better at watching myself lately that I realized I’m not the extrovert I thought I was.  When you’re in that panicked mode where you’re trying to maintain an audience for all of your best “material,” you’re mostly just being annoying and attention-seeking.  As far as “language police” stuff goes, I admit that I cringe when it turns into a game of who can use the most qualifiers and sociology-101 buzzwords.  I prefer not to split hairs with people who are clearly on the right side of things.  People who attack semantics are mostly just calling you mean because they don’t feel like engaging with the argument at hand.

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