Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Words and Rhinoceros Skin

A Mother Life
Originally published on February 21, 2014

It’s all in fun.

They don’t really mean it.

It’s only sarcasm.

That is what they always say. The people who say words that tear down instead of build up. And that is what I hear when others ask me about what is bothering my kids. When I tell them the truth of what is going on I hear things like,

Well, my kid doesn't really know what _____ means

OR my personal favorite

Awww, _____ just needs to grow a thick skin.

Ase a deeply caring person, now 19 and in college. Zany, 18 and a senior in high school, doesn’t simply march to the tune of his own drummer; he has a full marching band. Both are straight dancers. Sometimes the joking was about their sport. Other times it was about their personality. Both bravely faced teasing, joking, ribbing, kidding and unabashed bullying from their pre-teens all the way through their teens.

I've watched both boys filter those ignorant words through their hearts. Because of dance, they have gay friends. They went to an “inner city” school and have friends of all the colors.  The jesting words are not simply letters put together. Those words spoken in ignorance have real meaning to them.

AND it is starting now with her.

GirlyK is logical. Doesn't understand drama or why girls put themselves in that position. Gossip is not interesting. She does not see the rational in comparing herself to another person- you are you and I am me, let’s just get along. Her love of dissecting things and collecting bones creeps people out. She conquered her fear of spiders, and wears them regularly.

I am watching her make the similar choices her brothers made. Watching her skin toughen and not taking a risk in friendships. The reason: whether in jest or seriousness, words have meaning.

Age or success cannot protect us from that word erosion. This week I read an article about Jonathan Martin, a Miami football player. He knew the words were in jest. He understood those who spoke them did not intend harm, but they did.

Why does it matter? Why do words stick to our soul?

Because words created the world. With words God identified Jesus at the baptism. Jesus said …out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Paul challenges us to not let harmful words come out of our mouths, but only words that will benefit the listener.

We need to stop and taste words before they come out of our mouths:

Photo taken by xandert
Do they have an aftertaste of envy?
Am I angry?
Am I trying to impress?
Sarcasm has a flavor of truth.

Are those words that breathe life, or spread disease? The listener is just as important as the speaker. If our words offend we need to apologize and adapt instead of offering excuse or pandering. Life is hard enough; do we really need to make it harder?

I try to remember these words of wisdom from A Circle of Friends, “You mustn't mess me about. I know I may look like a rhinoceros, but I've got quite a thin skin really. So be careful with me. Or I'll flatten ya."

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