Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sticks and stones may break my bones...

...but words can scar my soul.

And they do.

My family and will admit to occasionally indulging in a few television shows in recent years where people are judged on their artistic talent, their cooking skills, or their personal style.  We enjoy these shows for the presentations and the artistry of the participants but we always skip through the "judging" parts.  Why?

Because we don't need to show our kids that ripping someone's work to shreds with words is entertainment.

Because we don't want to show our kids that this is the way to treat people who have worked hard and tried their best.

Because we don't believe that harsh words of criticism are any way to encourage and inspire others.

When did Americans become so outwardly critical of one another?  It's not just on TV either - I've heard working moms criticize stay-at-home moms for not working and stay-at-home moms criticize working moms for not staying at home.  I've seen grown women cry because of mean things said to them at volunteer meetings.  I've seen adult men be upset for weeks because of a nasty thing a boss or co-worker said to them in a public setting.  Does seeing criticism so blatantly espoused by celebrities on television make it easier and more acceptable to do in our daily lives?

It's even easier to be mean to one another today through non-confrontive means such as email or texts.  How many times have we heard of kids being cyber-bullied with tragic outcomes?  It's disgraceful, it's disgusting, and I'm often amazed at the vitriol that people are able to spew at one another without giving it a second thought.  Yes, it's the criticizer's fault, not the object of the criticism, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt sometimes.

I just want to say to everyone: Enough is enough!!  We are all working hard every single day to lead fulfilling lives and have meaningful experiences.  Each one of us deserves to be happy and enjoy the short time we have here on Earth by living up to our fullest potential.  We don't need people cutting us down and stomping on our dreams just because they may disagree with our choices or because they don't like what we like.  None of us is perfect and none of us ever will be, but we don't need other people in our lives pointing out what they think our flaws are.  (Most of us do that well enough ourselves without help, thank you.)

I recently gave an interactive performance for young children and their parents.  It went very well, everyone was smiling and participating the whole time, but when it was over I braced myself for the criticism.  I knew it was coming because no matter how hard you work or how well you think something goes, someone always has something negative to say about it.  Interestingly, the criticism never came.  I received only positive feedback which made me realize 2 things:

1. Apparently it's not "always."

2. When you do something from your heart but are constantly worried about how it's going to be received, you never really put your whole heart into it.  You're holding back in some way because you think that somehow that will prevent someone from being negative, or if someone does say something unkind, you can console yourself by telling yourself that you protected yourself a little bit by not giving it your all.  The mean stuff can never really get all the way in since you didn't put yourself all the way out.

I'll tell you, that's a crummy way to live.

So what's the solution?  That's a tough one because there are some really mean people out there and when they insult you personally it's not easy to just let those words roll off of your back, even though we know we're supposed to just blow it off and say "Oh, it's their problem."

Well, one answer would be to make sure you are never that critical person.  You can't control what another person is going to say or do but you can control yourself.  Make the decision to not be that jerk who cuts people off at the knees with your words, and make a commitment to be encouraging and uplifting to those around you, even when maybe you don't want to be.

Of course there are times when someone might actually need constructive criticism, which can be extremely helpful when presented in the right way.  In that case I've heard that it's productive to give three examples of positive things before explaining where the person needs work.  Before you speak, always put yourself in the other person's shoes and think "what would I like or not like to hear in this situation."  Never say anything that you know would be hurtful, and if you inadvertently hurt someone, (it happens) own up to it immediately and apologize.  It's actually very simple.

It seems odd that most people don't act this way naturally.  Which makes me wonder, is it human nature to treat other people poorly? Does this all go back to survival of the fittest on an anthropological level? I don't know.  But here is what I do know:

Keep the people in your life who truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, inspire you, enhance you and make you happy. If there are people in your life who do none of those things, let them go. ~Author unknown


What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?  ~George Eliot

Last I checked, the mortality rate for human beings was 100%. We're all in this together.  How about if we treat others as we would like to be treated?

Give me sticks and stones any day. Bones heal.  Souls may not.

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