Just Words

This week was surreal. Not because of the results of the election, but rather, the reaction of others to the results of the election. The sheer amount of hate and vitriol coming from all sides was shocking. People fist fighting in the streets. Kids chanting “build the wall” in a lunchroom. Countless incidents involving people being threatened that their “time is up” in reaction to their race. All of this negativity stoked by statements made by one person during their campaign.

While it remains to be seen whether the hate-fueled positions Donald Trump took during his campaign will be enacted, solely based on their threat (or promise), people reacted negatively. Just words. If anything, the reactions we saw this week are incredibly telling of the importance of language and knowing when to hold your tongue. No matter your true intent or beliefs, what you say and how you say it will have a side effect whether you like it or not.

All of this got me thinking about when I’ve personally said or done something in the past that was either poorly interpreted or provoked others. Back in my more obnoxious days, one event in particular stands out. Blurry eyed and with a loose tongue, I recall one night walking outside the apartment complex where I was living with a friend and spotting a group of folks on the balcony overlooking the parking lot.

Inhibitions low, the question came up of whether or not the two men talking had any women with them. They said “yeah, our girlfriends,” who walked out onto the balcony curious why they were being mentioned. In my infinite wisdom I cackled up to them “do you have any cuter ones?” Whoops. While I thought I was being humorous, this—rightfully so—led to the men coming across the way and eventually, one of them giving me a good pop in the face. My friends may have gotten a kick out of my humor, but the end result was that what I said provoked violence and hatred in another human being. Just words.

The point should be obvious but is easy to overlook (especially in the heat of the moment): what you say and do—regardless of whether you personally identify it as positive or negative—will have side effects. At all times, then, it’s important to remain aware of how what you’re saying and how you’re saying it might have adverse consequences. If what you’re thinking about spouting has the potential to backfire, consider hitting mute. In a quote: “Don’t talk if you can’t improve upon the silence.”