My Grandmother Freda was an amazing woman. Ahead of her time in so many ways, and so loving and giving. I faithfully received a letter from her every Friday while I was in college (I've saved them all!) sharing the news and letting me know that she loved me. When I needed a bit of encouragement or to be told everything would be ok, she was right there. She was a rock for her family, rarely judging and selfless with her love and support. Her words mattered so much.
Because she mastered the art of thinking before she spoke.
When I applied to law school, she never discouraged me. She listened to me talk, told me she knew I could succeed, said all the things a Grandmother should say. But when I graduated from law school, she confessed that, when I told her about my plans she thought, and I quote "it was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard." BUT, she went on "I just kept my mouth shut."
My mom and I often tell each other we need to be more like Freda and learn to keep our mouths shut. I'll be honest, I really struggle with this. I'm working on it, but I'm 60 and I have to tell you that while I have gotten better at keeping my mouth shut over the years, if I could re-write chapters of my life, most of the re-writing would be to take back hurtful, unhelpful, unkind things that I have said.
Right now our impulse to shout at each other is at an all-time high. Things have been said about candidates and their supporters, on both sides, that I find shocking. Truth has been absent and the overwhelming need to be "right" has overtaken our good judgment and better nature.
It’s not just politics. As our stress levels mount with the rising COVID case count and we struggle economically and kids are being home schooled or starting to show their own stress, it becomes more and more likely we will lash out and speak without thinking. And it’s the same at work. Harsh or unfair words from a manager can follow us from job to job, because we keep repeating them and wondering if they are true. Words spoken in anger or frustration are often louder than words spoken in love. How do we know when the “good” words are what we are meant to hear and the “bad” words are just noise? It is so hard and requires so much energy to constantly remind ourselves that other people’s words do not define us. And when we do need to really listen to what is being said, it is so much more powerful when those words are spoken without the heat of negative emotion.
We need to find a way to use our words to heal, not to wound. And to do that, we will have to learn to be a LOT more like Freda and keep our mouths shut. That doesn't mean we don't speak up about injustice or that we keep silent while others are being hurt. It does mean that we speak in a way that let's our words be heard and received, and that we speak with truth. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable and we do not use other's vulnerability to harm them or increase our own feelings of power or worth.
All the time, but especially right now, just pause before you speak and ask yourself these age-old questions:
Is this true?
Is it helpful?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?
Words matter. So much. This season of gratitude and giving is the perfect time to use our words to lift each other up. Send a note or make a call and use your words to say "I'm sorry" or "I see you" or "You matter." And when we all sit around a table together again, remember the days you could not do that and resolve to listen and see each person, because as we have been reminded so often this year, those are precious moments that can be taken from us so easily.
Let's all try to be a bit more like Freda.