Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Words We Use

My good friend wrote a blog post recently about words and how they have the strength to uplift a person and also have the force to tear a person down. Our words - the ones we have the very power to choose to say or choose to keep in our heads - tell everything about us. "I love you" can weigh just as heavily as the absence of "I love you".

We, as users of the internet, should be keenly aware of the importance of words. In a world where I've met some of my closest friends but have yet to personally speak to any of them, I understand the importance of words. The typewritten word cannot convey voice inflection, dry humor or sarcasm, a shaking voice that is holding back tears, or a shyness that wants to be heard but is unsure. When we type our words, we have to make sure we mean what we are saying and that we're ready to stand behind whatever we type, should someone misconstrue what we intended to communicate.

The one part of blogging that I've never really gotten used to is the speed at which a person is willing to sling insults, call names, and make judgments about a writer whom they've never met. This happened to me last year when I wrote a controversial post on a popular blog. (I'm not going to link to it because I don't want to start that firestorm again. But if you have been reading me for a while, you know the one I'm talking about.) Some of the things people said were insanely mean to me. And, if you had read the post, you would know that I said my point in a respectful, mature manner. Even the responses that disagreed with me, I still answered them politely and explained my point of view without attacking them personally. I wish the same could be said of some commenters from the opposite POV.

Okay, this is crazy. Here's the link. But DO NOT come back here to rehash the issue. It's over. Any comments here in regards to the earlier post will be deleted.

But the point I wanted to get to was this: Since that post I have attended two events in which I came face-to-face with two of the writers who'd flamed me the most on that issue (one at each event). The bloggers were cordial to me and, even in the most recent event, we were friendly to each other and spent time together in a small group. I even ate breakfast with her one morning! I never said, "Hey do you remember me? I'm the one who wrote..." because I definitely did not want to open that can of worms. But the thing I could not get out of my head were the terrible things she'd said about me. The hurtful and judgmental comments. Yet, she'd never met me. She didn't know me. She only knew what I'd written this one single time. She wasn't (isn't) a regular reader of my blog. She didn't follow me on Facebook. I love that she had a very strong point of view. I didn't so much love that she expressed it by name-calling and putting me down as a person, instead of intelligently communicating her side of the argument.

It was really awkward. I wanted us to just get past it. But I couldn't bring it up. I don't know if she was embarrassed or not. I kinda felt like a kicked puppy & didn't want to open myself up to possibly getting beaten up some more. So I left it. We pretended not to know anything about each other and la-la-la- ignorance is bliss.

This idea came to my mind again this morning because I was reading a post today on a site which I consider to be a reputable resource for women to empower young girls. And yet, the author chose to express her anger, or maybe disappointment, by making blanket judgments about people who disagreed with her point of view. She used derogatory names to describe them.

I don't get how that's being an example to the young girls she wants to empower. I wonder, now, is this a resource I want to look to when considering how to raise my daughter? Should I look to this person as a model for me? If I follow her lead, then when I get frustrated with a situation that's out of my control, I can give myself permission to use cheap shots and slander against that person or group.

It's just such a fine line when we choose to whom we listen. We may hear someone spew a funny monologue about politics or controversial topics and we tell ourselves that we understand it's just a joke. But if we get comfortable listening to one point of view and never listen to the other, it's easy to become of the mindset that ONE point of view is right and everything else is WRONG.

I guess the lesson I want to take away from this is that I need to remember the very things I've typed here when parenting my children. I want to surround them with people who support our point of view, because I feel like they're in the formative years now and need to have guidance from me. I understand that very soon they will meet people who have a different POV, and even be forming their own POV which may not agree with mine, and I won't be there to guide them or oversee what they say or do. Because of this, I also want to give them the tools to disagree politely - with others AND with us (their parents). I want them to understand that IT IS POSSIBLE to disagree with someone and still love them. It is possible that two people can be on completely opposite pages, but that doesn't make either of them intolerant. It doesn't make them wrong. It just makes them different from each other.

I want my kids to understand the power of words. I want them to know that words, like toothpaste, can't be put back once they're out. They are permanent. So choose wisely.

Texan Mama


April said...

What an awesome lesson for us all! You are so have to be very careful of the words you use and the context in which you use them. Often times, your readers might misconstrue your intention. I never agree with calling people names or being vicious in any kind of just doesn't work for the good of anyone.

Jennifer said...

I definitely know where you are coming from. I've tried to remove profanity from my blog (mostly) because I know it doesn't appeal to some people, and it isn't something I would use with everyone in real life (out of respect).

You know how I feel about words and judgment because I've written about it before (and we've talked about). I'm pretty open minded and have the ability to see things from a lot of different points of views. I kind of enjoy that we don't all agree all the time.

I also want to say that I love Melissa and I've learned A LOT from her in the last year. She is doing great stuff. I wouldn't let one post turn me off.

Ellen Stewart (aka Ellie/El/e/Mrs. Seaman) said...

I haven't clicked on the links included in your blog, yet, because the one thing I kept thinking as I read what you wrote today is, "Love them anyway." You know, that ol' thing from around 2000, "What would Jesus do?"

If you disagree, love them anyway.

Too simplistic? Perhaps, but for me it's always a good place to start.

Ellen Stewart (aka Ellie/El/e/Mrs. Seaman) said...

Okay, how did I totally miss this nail polish "controversy"???

Signed, head in the sand in IL

(The cursing did kind of rankle me, but I'm old and crusty at 50.)

Gigi said...

I was brought up with the old adage "if you can't say anything nice; don't say anything at all."

Words are very powerful. And I believe, as you do, that you can disagree without being hateful and ugly. And name-calling is never acceptable in my book. That is childish and vile.

I figure this person *was* embarrassed or probably forgot about it. You handled it well - there would have been no point in bringing it back up. All you can do is forgive and move on.

Anna See said...

Great post. I used words to hurt a dear friend last week-- during a prayer no less!!!-- and I'm still feeling awful about it.

GunDiva said...

As much as I would have wanted to bring it up, I don't think I would have either.

I think not only is it okay to have friends with differing views, but it's good. Helps keep you on your toes and forces you to keep your mind open.

anymommy said...

Well said. It can be hard to keep an open mind and a civil tone when you're ideologically ruffled, but it's worth it. No one ever hears a message that attacks them or calls them names, no matter how important. (In no way judging others here, I've slipped, I'm reminding myself and agreeing with you.)

tz said...

Beautiful post. I think that feeling of anonymity of the internet makes some people forget basic manners. I bet that blogger with whom you had breakfast would not have been so quick in expressing herself in such away had she met you.

I'm all for a great debate about anything and I find that hearing other points of views either solidifies mine or opens my eyes to looking at something in a way that I haven't before. Name calling is a poor debate tactic it goes no where.

Jack said...

Hey Gretchen,

I remember that post and I commented a bunch of times. I think that one of the great challenges of the blogosphere is trying to express ourselves clearly and cleanly.

Without facial expressions, body language and verbal cues it is so very easy to misunderstand and misconstrue the message.

I know that I am guilty of having responded unfairly to people because of this. I have been on the other side as well.

But I think that it is important for us to continue to interact and engage with people who don't share the same viewpoint.

It makes a difference. Hopefully it can be done in ways that aren't inappropriate or hurtful.

LindaKay0125 said...

I'm going to print this out and put it up in my office. These are times when many people have strong feelings about political happenings. I do too. I often post comments on various blogs and news posts. I think it's important to stay on track. I want to remember to comment making my point without personalizing them. I posted a comment on Facebook once and a young lady sent me a personal message disparaging me for what I said. I told her I was very happy we lived in a country where all are free to comment but that she wasnt free to contact me personally and if she did it again, I'd turn her in to FB. She sent me back a message saying she didn't mean to make me mad. It was beyond comprehension how she could say I was an idiot in one message and claim to not want to make me mad. I didn't respond again but I did print that out too but for a very different reason. I want to always remember to stay on focus. I'm disagreeing with a point of view and all life deserves respect. VERY good post. Thank you.

mama hall said...

i love you, friend.