Amber, at Strocel.com published a post last week about people who use the term "breastfeeding Nazi" as a label for breastfeeding advocates/activists. Her words made me think twice about the casual use of "nazi", but even more broadly about words in general. About how words are used and abused.
Words are a big deal in my house right now. I have a toddler who's picking up new words all the time. Some I love - thank you (gee goo), please (peece) - and others I'm not as fond of, "Go 'way" (said to Theta, one of the cats - all the time). Okay, so telling the cat to go away is pretty innocuous (and pretty funny), but the fact that Brandon picked that up from us so easily was slightly alarming. Typically, the context of us telling the cat to go away is when he's rolling around in the toys we're trying to play with. See Exhibit A to the left.
This morning, I was at the park with Brandon and he wanted to play on the see-saw (rather the springy thing that passes as a see-saw these days). The first couple of times he ran to the see-saw, I got in the end opposite him and bounced us up and down. The third time, I was trying to get him to go home so I just stood behind him to bounce and he told me to "go 'way".
I wasn't upset. I knew he simply wanted me to go to the other end and didn't quite know how to express it, but I did take the opportunity to tell him that it isn't okay to tell Mommy or Daddy to go away. That it isn't polite and he should say sorry. He did and we moved on - well, I moved on to the opposite side and bounced him.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about "shut up". For her, that is a phrase that is 100% off limits and it frustrates her that it's in popular (and otherwise good) kids' movies, such as Toy Story. I hadn't actually thought about that particular phrase since we're only a few months into the stage of watching what we say - and also Matt and I don't tell each other to shut up, so it didn't occur to me, to be honest. Because my friend was so staunchly against "shut up", I told her the story of the first time I said "shut up".
I was eight and was in daycare before and after school for the first time. After school one day, a boy was taunting me relentlessly. I completely lost it and told him to shut up. There was no hitting or any other physical contact, just a verbal argument. I was crying, shaking and so upset, the daycare workers put me in a separate area and I genuinely thought I was in trouble. Not so much. They really couldn't care less that I told the boy to shut up; they separated me to help me calm down. But whether the daycare workers cared or not really didn't matter, because I knew my mom would. Her feelings about "shut up" were very clear - it was an absolute, non-negotiable no-no. You did not say that phrase in our house. Ever.
I was over the upset caused by the annoying boy, but I wasn't looking forward to telling my mother what happened. At that age, it didn't occur to me to lie to her. Besides, I was sure the daycare workers would tell her everything anyway. They didn't, nor did they have to. I burst into tears and told her the whole story myself before she even pulled out of her parking space. I'm sure she was disappointed that I reacted in anger to the boy, but she didn't punish me for it. I think she realized I'd punished myself enough already.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I learned that day that even words that pass my lips directed at another can hurt me. I don't know if my words had any impact on the boy; they didn't seem to. But that doesn't make it okay. We've gotten very good in our society at being "open and honest", which many take as permission to say whatever they want, however they want, regardless of who it hurts. We've become desensitized to words that were previously taboo. Basic human compassion is too often abandoned because it's okay to ridicule without remorse. It's okay to not care.
I don't want to be cold-hearted and emotionless toward others. I want to be sensitive to the words I say - to feel upset that I may have hurt someone with my words. Having compassion for others is not a weakness; it's a necessity.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.