Me and my big mouth! Ever found yourself wanting to take words back that you said in haste or anger? Or saying to someone “I didn’t mean to say that.” If you’re like me then you probably wish this at least once every two days (or more frequently).
A few years ago after church service I ran into a guy I used to interact with while he was in high school. I was a peer educator with a youth organization and every week we went to high school clubs and interacted with the students, teaching them various life skills. So anyway, this guy walks up to me and after saying hi and the usual niceties he tells me about a day (easily 8years earlier) when I visited their school. I was trying to get the students to be quiet and harshly made some remarks aimed at him. He told me that he found them really hurtful. I mean eight years later! My eyes stung with tears as I apologized outside church.
After doing a personality test about 12 years ago I discovered that I am a choleric. For a better understanding of the four temperaments by Tim LaHaye consider reading “Why you act the way you do”. Cholerics are described as getting to the point, decisive and opinionated. They are debaters and arguers. No one can be more biting or sarcastic! Meet Wendy. When I looked back at my life I could see the hallmarks of this in my past. And present. I had clearly left a stream of casualties in my wake. This was a very sobering realization and I have since made daily conscious effort to avoid bulldozing people with my words.
Psychologists say that sarcasm, even though it can be used as a form of humor, is also a tactic often used to belittle others and in the process make the “user”look more intelligent and better. It is a sign of low self esteem. For most people they are not aware and may not be doing it intentionally nor are they seeking to hurt the other person. Sarcasm is also like a gun that is drawn out when one feels attacked or in a corner. A defensive art mastered over years.
Sarcasm isn’t the only form of toxic talk. There are four other forms that I can bet you can identify in yourself or others around you. Toxicity is everywhere! Comparing words is number two. This is especially a killer in relationship with our kids and spouses/boy(girl)friends. “Why can’t you be like Jen’s husband? He buys her flowers every week and takes her on holiday to South Africa.” “Why can’t you be like your sister? She is an A-student and a great athlete. Comparisons are unfair because every one is different and for good reason (topic for another day). We all have different priorities, talents, wallet sizes, plans….. Comparisons let the other person know that they are not enough for you, they don’t measure up and ultimately they are not loved the way they are.
Number three is something I have observed at work and in romantic relationships (married or dating). The toxicity of public redress. This occurs every time we dress down someone in public. Imagine what it feels like to have someone strip you of your clothes in public. Embarrassing, humiliating, disrespectful…are some of the words that come to mind. That is what it feels like when we reprimand our colleagues (usually someone of a lower grade) and when we criticize our mate in public especially among either person’s workmates or friends. Really anyone. Vincent Thomas Lombardi is quoted as having believed that we should praise in public, criticize in private. The point of criticism should be to prompt growth and improvement in the area the offense has been caused therefore an audience is unnecessary. Makes me think of the awkward silence when in the company of someone who criticizes their mate in your presence. You feel humiliated just being there and listening.
The fourth and last form of common toxicity in my observation is insulting and name calling. I’ve chosen to lump them together even though they are different. They are a wide spectrum of speech/talk that include using cursing out someone, telling someone to shut up, using insulting words and even saying things like…”I swear I don’t know what I was thinking saying/doing…” I am sure I can rely on you to fill in the blank there. These type of words show disrespect, disgust and serve to ridicule and put down someone’s thoughts, ideas, intelligence and contribution. Calling someone a liar for instance is in most cases unfair. Or saying your wife is now like a cow because of all the weight she has gained. These are statements of character assassination. They focus on the character rather than the actual problem or issue in question i.e. The lying or the gaining of weight. No one likes to be criticized in this manner; written off so hurtfully (no such word I’m sure but you get me). Let someone know how you feel about the act – entirely separate from the person. I can love you but feel hurt, insecure and disrespected when I lie. You are likely to change or at least consider it if you know how your actions make me feel. But accusing someone or blatantly calling them a name results in more of the undesired habit and the vicious cycle repeats itself over and over.
Bad jokes are a category I won’t touch on today. Okay, maybe I’ll just say this: people are sensitive about their weight, appearance and intelligence so steer clear of jokes and sarcastic comments about those. Sometimes they’ll laugh with you but then inside your words take a stab at their heart. Which reminds me of the annoying habit of many Kenyans to comment about your weight within 5 minutes of meeting you. And going ahead to assign the change (either expansion or shrinkage) to something like getting married, being happy (not sure what exactly they mean) or getting a fat pay check. The shrinkage is usually assigned to stress or sickness. Clearly I should have said I shall write about five and not four forms of toxic talk. This was my fastest typed paragraph.
So, you are a perpetrator of toxicity, what now? What can you do about it, if at all you see it as something to change? Let me stress that we are dealing with the log in our eye and not the speck in his/her eye. You can’t change the person you want to forward this to but you can change you. Alrighty, here are some ways to diffuse that toxic poison dripping from thine lips. Antidotes if you will. As a start I recommend you read Proverbs 12:13-19 and 15:1-7. Solomon the Wise definitely understood the business of talk very well.
1. Speak less. “In a multitude of words sin is not lacking.” That is from Proverbs 10:19 The more you say the more likely you are to let something slip, say something you’ll want to take back. For fast talkers like me who have so etching to say about everything this is challenge enough even before moving on to the rest.
2. Think before you speak. Obvious I know but we don’t do it often enough, especially in anger or when someone has wronged us. But it is then that you must bite your tongue – literally if you must – and count to ten, take deep breaths and yes, think. Ask yourself what is this person trying to communicate to me? What would make them say what they are saying? Is the any truth in there? What can I say that would lead to the best result now and in the future? Part two of Proverbs 10:19 “…but he who restrains his lips is wise”.
3. Deal with it. Put is said that hurting people hurt other people. Deal with your hurt and hang ups so that you’re trying to spread it to everyone else. We all have baggage and it is everyone’s responsibility to deal with their own baggage – I am reminded of the song “kila mtu atauchukua mzigo wake mwenyewe” (everyone shall carry their own burdens). So stop blaming everyone else and God and take some steps to deal with it. Don’t let it be an excuse for treating people badly
4. Be aware. Awareness is a precursor of change. If you’re not aware then you never know when you’re spewing. Recognize when you are thinking toxic and prevent it from translating to speech. Recognize when you are using toxic speech and stop. Apologize as soon as you can (even though they started it)
The words we use really do matter. Proverbs 18:21 – “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”. You can choose to speak life or death by encouraging rather than discouraging those around you, building them up rather than dragging them down, mending hearts rather than breaking them..It is a daily, nay minute-by-minute decision to choose to speak life. What toxicity do you struggle with? I’d love to hear how you’re dealing with it .