We count a lot of things, but so many people forget one of the most important things they need to count. Their words. What we say can help or hinder people. What we say can build up or really hurt people, leaving results that can last years or even a lifetime.
All you have to do is look around to see horrible examples of word assault. Turn on the TV. Reality shows are rife with shock-value slings, but regular TV shows are often not much better. Turning on the computer shows that many think that they can say whatever they want to another because their faces (and sometimes identity) are hidden by the electronic media. Kids grow up thinking they can say whatever the heck they want—regardless of what their parents try to hammer into them. Good parents can curb the rhetoric but rarely squash it out completely.
Common niceties seem to be a thing of antiquity or a relic from before the mid-twentieth century. They say many people long for a simpler time. I think many people long for nicer times. More polite days.
More and more, people seem to believe it’s okay to say nasty things to others. What used to be said in secret evolved to being whispered behind the back and then to being said directly to the person. In what world is it okay for a stranger to tell another person they’re fat and shouldn’t eat or that their clothes aren’t becoming or that they should exercise more? What gives anyone the right to criticize another’s hair or tattoos or speech or intelligence? Who has the right to pass judgment on others?
Recently, I had a friend go into the YMCA to cancel her membership. She liked the Y, but financial restrictions were causing her to make the choice. When she told the woman at the membership desk that she needed to cancel her membership, the woman said “No, what you need to do is go get on a treadmill.” Are you kidding me? On what planet is it okay to say something like that to a person? My friend is rather emotionally fragile, as are many overweight people, and those words stabbed her right to the core. Honestly, I don’t know many people it wouldn’t have hurt. People have gone home and committed suicide over less. How do we know that our mean words won’t be the last push someone needs? I guess perhaps by not saying them, but I could list far too many instances just like what happened to my friend. Overweight people are easy targets, and sadly, it’s become somewhat socially acceptable to publicly shame those who are, let’s face it, fat.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s okay. There’s no written guideline or recommendation about this behavior. Many just think it’s okay. And there is nothing more soul crushing. I don’t get a lot of ridicule—at least to my face (or in my hearing)—but I’ve been pulverized by the pain caused by words. I’ve kept a brave, unaffected face until I was alone where I could cry in private. That’s what many of the victims of words do. We pretend we aren’t hurt; we hide how we really feel until we can let it out while we’re alone. God forbid we give anyone something else to ridicule. I’ve been a victim to that too. One time taught me better. It’s very few people who get past my hard exterior to see the vulnerable person inside.
I am overweight for many reasons. Health reasons, control reasons, choices and subsequent lifestyle. But I promise you, words and my reaction to them have packed on plenty of pounds too. Suicide takes many forms. Self-destructive behavior being one of them. Sometimes it’s “I’ll show them” (how screwed up is that). And sometimes it’s because food gives comfort. Food doesn’t pass judgment. Food doesn’t talk back. And even if we feel regret or guilt, food offers something that others do not, momentary escape to better times—because most foods we turn to are associated with some kind of good memory.
I’m trying to connect good memories with non-food related activities, but that doesn’t mean just the right mean words won’t send me searching for Oreos or a Coca Cola.
Personally, I’m calling for kindness in 2013. Not just to overweight people but to all people. The phrase “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is one of the biggest lies every perpetuated. Words are powerful weapons. But I’m going to use my words for good.