I’ve become increasingly aware, over the last several years, of little negativities – angry words and actions that ping into me like stones on my windshield. I didn’t pay much attention at first, because it didn’t make that much difference. But when they continued to pelt me from different directions, I began feeling as valuable as a tow vehicle behind a dump truck for all the minuscule chips. Then I finally cracked. I cannot laugh off the stings anymore. Not because I’m so hurt; I am, but because I now see how hurtful these comments are to the speaker more than his intended. I was taught to treat others the way I’d like to be treated. That a kind word is salve to the soul. Somehow, while it’s really popular to spout ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ – it’s pretty rare to actually see kindness in practice.
There’s a guy who lives on my road. A more selfish driver I’ve never met; he will not slow for anything. It is a long, narrow, dirt road, and the only place I have readily available to walk my dog or go for a run. I’ve been pelted with rocks, had to dive off the road into sloppy mud when he didn’t see me, and wondered how often he does see me and doesn’t care. While he was following my car once, I slowed down for my driveway; he peeled into my path and angrily hit the gas just as he passed so I’d be pelted with rocks. Nobody matters in the world but him.
But unless he completely mows me down, those bruises will heal. Most negativity is verbal. Words are carelessly slung at others to show them how thoughtless or stupid they are. Let’s turn this around and look at it from the other side: tearing others down to make ourselves feel superior or witty. Some words echo for years, leaving scars on the soul. Maybe the reasoning is subconscious, but motives are what matters. How many times have we said, “It’s the thought that counts”? I believe that every word is important – they are how we communicate to others, so what we say always says something. What is it you really intend to communicate? And why?
Jesus said that it’s the heart of a man that defiles him. What comes out of us definitely shows who we are and influences our reality.
One afternoon at the store, a beautiful lady and I got to chatting in line about foods. We were in complete agreement. But when we found out we were parked next to one another, the conversation changed. She had dropped her flowers and I was still holding them for her when she accused me of being oblivious to the concerns of the world’s population by having six children and a gas hog Suburban. She truly believed what she had to say, and had reasons to back it up. I disagreed with her, but listened, and we discussed the topic briefly and intelligently. I respect her position and still think she was smart and beautiful.
Was she rude? For a moment. But then she was seeking to understand my motivations. Every time I have the opportunity to see someone openly like that, I find that most everyone has a heart of gold inside. They are different from me, with opposing ideas, but I learn from actually listening that mine are not the only viable options. And I become so much broader for seeking to understand their perspectives.
The Bible refers to truth as the light. Neither the lady nor I had absolute truth on the matter. But we both shed light on the other’s viewpoint. The funny thing about enlightening others is that, if we hit them over the head with it, they’ll go black. Only by lighting the lamp and setting it gently beside them in all its glory can we both see the truth. That’s important, I am so keenly aware, as quite possibly I’m the one in the wrong. She made a lot more positive impact with her disagreement by respecting me than by mowing me down or ripping my heart out. Her kindness also dressed some wounds of inferiority I had festering.
I love language, and the power words hold. They can warm the heart or steel it, in barely a moment. The awareness of who I am and my intentions in this discussion are the foundation upon which my words stand; the fitness of the words I choose will reflect me and my heart. I could have flamed her with the statistics which do not support her argument – I actually carry that information in my head – but how persuasive would I have been? By maintaining a thoughtful, proactive stance in the relationship, open to hear her heart as well as sharing my own, both us maintained our dignity. My goal should be positive resolution for both parties, not world domination. And self-serving though it may be, how many of us don’t absolutely love the person who is always kind and uplifting to us? Don’t I stand to gain by making her feel worthwhile?
I’m reminded of the school bully, who leaves his victim vainly trying to recoup his ego while the big guy moves on. It is futility to lash out at his disappearing backside and show my fear and vulnerability. Better to laugh off his bad days in the same way I dismiss my own. If nothing else, I’ve disarmed his power over me. Years ago, I watched someone win the bully for a friend this way.
What does love really mean? Am I exuding it? Even if the man up the road is the sole survivor of terminal idiocy, my reactions don’t need to confirm it. A kind word turns away wrath – even in my own head! – and my words, my responses, even in his wake, show who I am and will ring in my ears for good or evil. Silence can often be the calling card of wisdom.
Herein lies the difference. The lady disagreed with me, but was willing to swallow her rudeness and have an intelligent conversation. I’m sure she wanted me to see the error of my ways and swallow my children back to where they came from, but she came to see that I had valid reasons for wanting them. She and I both left bigger for the interaction, judging from her thoughtful look that mirrored my own as she took her flowers and drove away. My neighbor has left an indelible visual impression on me as well, with his rude manners and choking dust. I am never bettered for the interaction, and neither is he. He may feel better for the moment, but he loses a little more standing in the community every day he continues his hard-hearted ways. I am strengthened every day I realize his actions are not about me.
And really, being intentional about how we handle our interactions with others boils down to respect for the other and his worth in order to influence our own future. Most of us have children around us; children who will pick up attitudes faster than germs. Can I honestly sit them down Sunday evening and explain how ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’ – when they’ve been beside me from their earliest years, watching what considerate, loving, interpersonal relations look like on a daily basis? Hmm.
It’s only when we’re honest with our faults, failures and foolish moments – to ourselves – that we can actually move on to give love to another. I can accept you as you are because I’m very aware of my own disreputable days when I, too, have not acted becomingly.
If I am ever granted forgiveness for anything, and I most certainly have been, I need to return that same grace – to each individual who crosses my path. I cannot call myself patient, or merciful, or dare I say – a Christian – until I do. Loving another as God first loved me calls for some tolerance of others’ missteps and faults, even when intentional. Please take a moment, next time you are tempted to flame someone, to think if you have ever done anything wrong. Ever. Then you should keep the words for yourself. Better yet, give the grace you would’ve liked to have. Let’s build up those around us, see how many faults we can cover over, and maybe someday soon your words will come back to you.