In today’s world, everyone seems to feel empowered to say whatever is on their mind. Don’t agree with someone? Say it to anyone else who will listen. Unhappy with a decision? Post it on social media. Being pushed out of your comfort zone? Defame, distract, or disrupt in any way that you can to take the heat off yourself.
I guess what bothers me about this is the disregard for the other person/people in this circumstance. Growing up, my mom taught me that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Unfortunately today, so many people succumb to the belief that if I am unhappy, I have every right to vent and even disparage your character rather than have a conversation focused on the issue.
Don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not innocent in this scenario. One of my greatest regrets as an educator was after completing my first year of teaching. I had a student during that year that was really struggling, but his mother refused to consider testing for a disability. When the family was moving to a new district the next year, I felt it was my moral obligation to prepare the new district and go beyond a simple statement of fact and include my personal opinions in the child’s cumulative folder. The family arrived at their new school district and the district shared my remarks. Needless to say, the mother contacted my principal and the remarks were removed from the record. While my statements weren’t false, they were opinions. While I felt I was being honest, I am sure they were hurtful to that mother. I was held accountable. After becoming a parent myself, I finally understood the impact of my judgemental words. Now rather than being held accountable by someone else, I do this for myself. I try to consider daily that in my work, I am dealing with someone’s child and my words matter more than the point I think needs to be made.
A couple of years ago, I was working in a district that hired a new superintendent. He began his role by having all the campus administrators share their discontent with the district administrators. The facilitator framed the conversation in a negative, “give me all the dirt” kind of way. I sat in shock as I watched the room of typically well-spoken professionals turn into a shark infested feeding frenzy. It seemed everyone got wrapped up in unloading years worth of frustrations. Of course, there were things that could be improved upon, but all that good that had also been done was forgotten. Over the next few months, I watched outstanding professionals demoted or lose their positions. I’m not sure anyone in the room sharing their discontent expected what was to come next or wished professional downfall on anyone, but that is exactly what happened. Words are powerful.
Whether you are a parent concerned with your child’s teacher or school, a colleague frustrated with a teammate or supervisor, or politicians who seem to have opinions about everyone, we need to put some humanity back in our 21st Century digital world by remembering those that we have these opinions about are human. We also need to remember that our actions model to our children and teach them what is acceptable behavior. We cannot be shocked when we see students bully each other on social media when adults are modeling this behavior themselves. For some reason, people are becoming more and more bold about saying whatever it is that comes to their mind without consideration of the impact those words may have. Lack of accountability for the words we say perpetuates the cycle and makes us feel more empowered to spew our venom at whoever may be getting in our way.
Wouldn’t it be a better place if anonymity made us feel braver to spread positivity and that if a negative topic was truly important enough to discuss, it must be done face to face and be based on actions rather than character attacks? More importantly, if you weren’t ready to do address a situation in this manner, you said nothing at all. It’s not just sticks and stones that hurt. Words can cause long-lasting damage. To someone’s reputation. To their position. To their self-esteem. If you are ready to do that kind of damage to another human being, the least you could do include them in the conversation. Maybe my mom’s old adage needs to be revised: If you don’t have something nice to say, consider the other person and the impact your words will have. Stick to facts rather than opinions, and be brave enough to look them in the eye. If not, it’s not important enough to say because words do hurt as much as any stick or stone.