“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”
Ever heard that before? Of course you have. You probably said it on the playground when you were a kid growing up during recess. (Recess,you guys remember that?! Those were the days of nap times, snack times, and recess.) You might’ve even said it last night to your spouse–I hope you didn’t, but anything’s possible.
Those are words I remember spewing when a bully or someone who didn’t like me for some reason would lash out verbally, saying things like, “You’re such a dooty-head! Why are you so slow!” Kids can be so mean…
But in response, I’d yell back: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”
Let’s be honest, though, that phrase just isn’t true!
We’ve all been hurt by someone’s words, whether intended or not. If you’re breathing and have a pulse, you have been hurt by someone’s words. It’s a human rite of passage.
So since that’s true, why do we try to act like it’s not?
Let’s say this together: stick and stones may hurt a lot, but words hurt worse.
Okay, now that THAT’S out of the way, let’s talk about how we should respond when someone verbally jabs at us.
1. Don’t take it personally.
I’m sure some of you are laughing your butt off at me right now. “Don’t take it personally,” he says. Don’t get offended, he says.” Yes, I do say that. But let me explain.
The reason we get hurt is because we take things personally. And that’s normal. But if we chose to put in a different perspective, one that tries to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we might end up quite enlightened.
The thing is, we all have a story. We all have a history, and often we lash out because of past hurts. You’ve heard the saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” People that are hurt will end up hurting others.
I typically enter situations with a mindset that says, “There’s information I’m missing. There’s something I don’t know or can’t see.” When someone lashes out at me, I assume it’s probably not because of me (or at least, not solely because of me). It’s possible that they had a fight with their spouse that morning. Or maybe they’re just hungry or tired! (That’s when I usually lash out…please forgive me!)
Either way, if you choose NOT to take things personally, you end up being happier all around. It’s a good life to live.
2. Respond with gentleness.
There’s a verse from the Bible that says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” It’s from the book of Proverbs. And even if you don’t believe in Jesus or a God or a higher power–you should read the book of Proverbs. It’s got TONS of wisdom.
Let’s take my marriage for example. Sometimes my wife gets upset with me (Surprise! I’m not perfect, and neither is she). And in those moments I get to choose how to respond. Am I going to match her frustration and anger with MORE frustration and anger? That just perpetuates the problem and doesn’t solve anything. It just escalates the emotion.
So what do I do? I respond with gentleness, kindness, and a soft answer. Now I don’t always win at this. I have my moments where I fail and respond with more anger. But if I can take a step back and really assess what will actually help the situation, the first thing that puts me on the path to reconciliation is responding with a “soft answer.” It’s amazing to see the emotion and tension in the room lift and allow us to have a conversation instead of an argument.
3. Believe the best.
This one kind of ties in with not taking it personally, but it goes even further. When you choose to believe the best about people, you assume that they don’t mean any harm. Very few people want to intentionally cause harm or inflict pain (they’re out there, but they’re small in number). Most good-hearted individuals are not looking to throw words like stones.
People usually want to display their best. When someone lashes out verbally, it’s either because of past hurts, present stress, or future worries. And we all have those. That’s what connects us as humans.
But we have to choose to see past the present moment and empathize with those that hurt us with their words. There’s always something bigger going on. Something behind the scenes we can’t see. But if we choose not to take it personally, to respond with gentleness, and to believe the best, we’ll not only be happier and healthier, we’ll have better relationships with everyone around us.
When we can survey the situation at a larger scale instead of a micro one, we can account for more factors that just what we see.
Because what we can’t see is often more important than what we can see.