It was an innocent enough comment, something written down for private knowledge. Not to be read or shared. At least not read by me.
Scribbled on the outside of my patient folder, my orthodontist had written these words, “Patient has an elongated face, horse-like.”
He inadvertently left the folder on the creepy tray that holds the scary instruments. I wasn’t supposed to see it, I’m sure.
But I did. And 20 years later, I still think about that comment now and then. Mostly it’s to make a joke to Brooke that she married a horse-face, but I’d be lying if there’s not a bit of pain in the sarcasm.
Maybe he was talking about my oval-shaped face. Or maybe he was referencing the sweet overbite I had that caused me to wear headgear.
Side note – if you’re an orthodontist, no matter the overbite, don’t tell your patients they have to wear headgear to school. With the behind the neck strap AND the top of the head strap I “obeyed” his instructions for one day, that was it. Never again.
An easy, cheesy thing to say is the lie about sticks and stones. I’d venture to say that words hurt a lot more kids (and adults) than any stone ever has.
Words carry tremendous power. The power to speak life and hope into someone or the power to cut down and belittle.
In our 12 years of marriage and our 11 years of parenting, I’ve said countless hurtful words to those around me.
I’ve cut Brooke with sarcasm and dismissive comments. I’ve hurt our kids with a sharp response and angry inflections.
But lately, I’ve fought like hell to speak more kindness and encouragement.
Not in a weird game of tit for tat. Or to be sure the scales are tipping in the favor of being a “good guy” instead of a “mean guy”.
But because I’ve realized my words carry a big weight to those around me. When I’m angry, hurtful or manipulative, it doesn’t simply impact my day. It impacts everyone in my wake.
Words spoken affect community and shape culture. The culture of a home, workplace, whatever.
Here are a few questions I’ve wrestled with the last year relating to this topic:
- Why do we lurk in the shadows of life and withhold our encouragement? The world is hard enough, our lives are confusing enough. Let’s tell those around us that we are for them, on their side, cheering for them. Don’t simply think they already know you feel that way about them. Whether it’s the neighborhood, our extended families or scrolling through social media, it’s easier to be cynical and judgmental. Instead of saying way to go, or congrats on the promotion, or we’re proud to be their friend. When we hold people at arm’s length, safe enough to not be hurt, our temptation is to do it through a spirit of comparison. It produces the internal dialogue of “how does he have such an easy path in his career, their kids are so much better behaved than mine, she’s a fake, he’s a scumbag, they are always so happy,” This always robs and steals joy, it doesn’t ever produce it. We view someone’s edited trailer of their life and assume the whole movie is perfect. Guess what, it’s not. They have financial worries too, they have career doubts too, they don’t know what they’re doing with their kids either. We’re all in this together, all trying to do our best. Fill up someone’s sails with a kind word instead of hiding behind a cynical spirit.
- Why do we think we need to give our kids tough love when maybe they need to hear “I love you” with tender love? I recently had a conversation with a neighbor, a grown woman. In her 60+ years of life, her dad never one time verbally said he loved her. Sure it was part generational but it’s still something that haunts her. That’s an extreme example of course, but it’s easy to drift to only instruction instead of encouragement.
- What will people remember that I said in 20 years? Like the orthodontist’s words that held such a grip in my mind, what will I say today that someone will hold onto? There is power in words, and I’m hoping my words will be used in positive, meaningful ways as opposed to cutting, destructive ways.
- So what happens when I blow it? When I fall short, when I lose my cool, when I’m sarcastic. The call isn’t to be perfect in every word spoken. That’s impossible and produces shame. But the call is to be deliberate and aware. Deliberate in the things we speak into people’s lives around us. And aware of the impact of our words.
Go ahead, speak up. The people around you need encouragement. Especially if they’re wearing headgear.