Words, Otherwise Beautiful, Can Be So Harmful
“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”
Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls
Words have power. They can inspire and destroy.
Last week, the lovely Callie Leuck wrote an amazing post, Some People Can't Mind Their Ps and Qs. She shares customers' comments while she performed in a living history museum, and also discusses how hateful people can be with negative book reviews.
It struck a chord with me.
Be Mindful of What You Say
My oldest daughter was given several gifts from her paternal Mexican great-grandfather. Like him, she has beautiful olive skin, black hair, and dark brown eyes. So many times as a teen I prayed for a tan. My skin knows two colors: red or white. I am quite fair with blue eyes and dark red/brown hair. My husband has the black hair and dark eyes, but fair skin (although he tans when he has time to soak up sun).
Twenty months after our first daughter, we welcomed another. She takes after me with insanely fair skin, green eyes, and golden brown hair (okay that's after my mother).
The comments have never stopped.
When I was obviously pregnant with baby #2, I can't tell you how many times women came up to me and said:
"Congratulations, you can get pregnant!"
I looked at the beautiful little girl in my arms and didn't try to mask my confusion. They would continue:
"You hear it all the time. You adopt a baby and then immediately get pregnant. So glad it worked for you."
Or, you don't want to know how often I've heard this question:
"Where did you get her?"
At first I didn't know how to respond. Now I say, "The doctor handed her to me after I pushed her out."
Now that my oldest is twelve, she fields a lot of these "what are you" questions. People have asked her if she's my foster child, people pull her sister aside and ask if she's adopted or from a different father. People assume she isn't mine. I'm astounded in this day and age that people are so perplexed by the color of her skin and details of her features.
Curiosity is Not an Excuse for Insensitivity
I understand curiosity. I do. But I don't understand how a moment of curiosity in the brain travels out from the mouth without any consideration. My daughter has cried about not fitting in. I tell her everyday how beautiful she is.
We cannot control our thoughts or even judgmental moments of weakness. But we can, and should, control the things that come out of our mouths. Or worse yet, get written in emails, texts, Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. I tell my preteen daughter... what you write in a moment of anger, hurt, sadness, meanness can and will live on in perpetuity.
Just last night at a swim meet, a woman said to me (quite loudly with my daughter standing right next to me), "Man she has dark skin." I could see the pain on my daughter's face. Kids her age were standing around. She doesn't want to feel different right now, but I hope she grows to love her beauty and individuality.
Beyond My Experience
I calm myself by blaming people's insensitivity on curiosity and poor manners. What I cannot understand is why some people get so heated when they review places and items online.
Specifically for book reviews, not everyone likes the same thing. There's a huge difference between pointing out what you didn't like about a book or offering constructive criticism and attacking personally. Maybe it's because I understand the blood, sweat, and tears most authors put into their books. Regardless, there's a person behind every book, restaurant, product, retail shop, and service reviewed online. The words left behind can be damaging to people’s careers, livelihoods, and self-worth.
Remember that what you say or write travels quickly past a person's mind to their heart. Before you commit your thoughts to words and actions, take a few seconds to consider how you would feel if someone said that about you or someone you loved.
Last November, I wrote a post about bullying and the power of words: The Power of Words: Adult Bullying. A man my sister worked with was chastised for his weight all his life. He considered, on several occasions, committing suicide. It's a powerful reminder of the weight of our words.
Do you think "attacking" reviews should be removed from online sites?
Tia is the award-winning author of Depression Cookies, an avid blogger, and a freelance editor. She’s also mom to three girls ages 12, 10, and 7.