Words Matter

I was riding high today after a morning breakthrough in the novel plotting. I’ve been doing my best to come to the work every day now that I finally have time, but it’s been frustrating to say the least. I’ve been stuck, the work was stuck and I didn’t know what to do about it. And so I’ve been focusing on craft – reading everything I can get my hands on, contemplating my characters, my plot, my themes. I’ve been continuing research even when it pulls me into the internet wormhole and seems like wasted time. I’ve been jotting down notes and doodling and simply sitting my butt in the chair every day anyway.

So today, when a simple little note answering a tiny little “what if” suddenly cracked open the potential direction of the two thirds of the book, I was ecstatic.

Then reality hit. I had to run a few errands, including picking up the packs of circus peanuts I agreed to provide to the fourth grader’s teacher for a “treat assignment” they were doing this week. The first grocery store didn’t have them. Neither did Target. Nor did the second grocery store I went to. Finally, I cranked up the Google in the car (while safely parked) and entered “where to buy circus peanuts?” An area drug store topped the list and so I went back in the direction of the first darn store and crossed my fingers. A wild goose chase was most certainly not how I envisioned spending my afternoon.

I tried to keep my high. I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast in the car. I was noodling where I wanted to start when I got back to my desk. I pulled into the parking lot. A right turn off the main road, a right turn into the main artery of the parking lot. I wasn’t sure which side of the building I wanted to park on. Another car was turning from the far side of the building and approaching from the other side of the road. I made sure I had enough room for us to both pass and stopped quickly when a large pick up started emerging from a space to my right. I don’t think he’d seen me. I certainly hadn’t seen him yet – he was pulling forward from the space on the other side and my eyes had been on the approaching vehicle. I paused. He paused. I proceeded to drive past and park my car. I disengaged my cell phone from it’s charger, put it in my purse and then got out. The pick up was waiting, inching slowly towards my car. I was looking both ways before crossing the lot when the driver of the pick-up rolled down his window and told me to “Slow down, ASSHOLE.” Then drove off.

What?

First of all, huh? I couldn’t have been driving that fast. Truly. I was already watching another car, I was looking for a space, I had just made a turn, all of which add up to me going not very fast at all. I’m not even sure I’d hit the gas.

Second of all, why? Why did he feel it necessary to slow down and stop to yell at me and call me a name for whatever slight he felt I had made. And even if I had been going “too fast” (which again, I fail to know what that would have been), I had the right of way. His car pulling out of a parking space should have waited for me whether I was going 5 or 15 (which seems unlikely) or 30 (which I certainly wasn’t).

But here’s the thing. I replayed the whole drive in my mind over and over and over again as I picked up my circus peanuts (yes, they had them and even on SALE!) and on the drive home and as I recounted the story to my husband. I was certain that if someone called me out for something I must be in the wrong. Why else would someone get so angry? Why would he waste his time to call me names?

Maybe he’s just having a bad day. Perhaps he was picking up medicine for his sick kid or a wife recovering from surgery or his own prescription for a terribly nasty and humiliating condition. Or I reminded him of someone who has wronged him. Or he thinks women in SUVs are bad drivers. Or he just lost his job. Or he couldn’t find the damn circus peanuts.

I don’t know.

I don’t care.

It doesn’t matter. but the words do.

There is too much name calling.

This election cycle has been full of it. I don’t want to get political, but the fact of the matter is that the words that are uttered do have meaning. But whether it’s a politician, a neighbor, a friend, a family member, a stranger, these words can’t be taken back. They land on people’s hearts. They have meaning. They can’t be mitigated by calling them jokes or sarcasm. They can’t be excused by saying you were hurt when you said them. They can’t be apologized away. They fall into the minds of people and affect them. They leave marks – sticks and stones be damned. Words hurt.

That man calling me an asshole – he affected me. My high was gone. I was shaking. I was embarrassed. I was mad. I’ve spent the last hour questioning my driving in parking lot skills and going over every short stop, swerve and honk I’ve ever made at the wheel.

If I was truly going too fast in the parking lot (can you see I’m obsessed about whether I was or not?), that man could have made a more meaningful change in my alleged behavior by rolling down his window and saying, “Excuse me, ma’am. You might want to slow down in a parking lot, I didn’t see you coming.”

Instead, his name calling made me defensive.

Not only that, but he’s ruined the rest of my day.

And maybe he wanted to ruin the rest of my day. Maybe his day has been so bad and he can’t control whatever it is that’s happening to him and so he lashed out at the first thing that crossed his path, literally. I hope it made him feel better. Because it made me feel shitty. And I’m fairly certain I didn’t deserve that today. Or any day really.

How we speak to one another matters.

Let’s think about the words we use and why we use them. Let’s consider context and circumstance. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt that we’re all coming from a place of goodness, of love, or at the very least neutrality. If you find yourself wanting to call someone a name or say something ugly, think about why? Most of the time, I bet it has more to do with you than with them. You might be lashing out to cover your own insecurities or your own confusion. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes people are down right in need of a comeuppance, but even then, can you say it without the trappings of anger or meanness? Can you insert kindness in all of your questions and actions and reactions?

That man today had to go out of his way to shout his profanity at me. Let’s go out of our way to say something nice to someone. I made sure I thanked the drug store sales clerk for having exactly what I needed. I’ll be making some treats for a neighbor later who helped us out with a yard project without us having asked him to.

Words matter. Let’s make them count for something good.

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