I confess that I think twittering or tweeting is best left to the birds. OK, so I really don’t know how to do either one, but from the examples I’ve seen it looks like people are lobbing insults and catchwords back and forth across the net. Where that takes me today is musing about the hurtful words we use in talking to or about others. Calling people names is certainly part of many, but not all cultures. In some it is considered a game to see who can craft the sharpest epithet. In others, including some Alaska Native groups, children are taught not to call someone a name because it might come back to them. In my childhood, I remember coming home from elementary school one day crying because my friend had said I had yellow skin and walked like a chicken. The old “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me” didn’t work, because those words did hurt me. My mother tried to comfort me that day and taught me to say, “You can talk about me all you please; I’ll talk about you on my knees.” Truth be told, that didn’t do much more for me than the sticks and stones ditty, but I recognized what my mother was trying to do. More recently I had an encounter with a friend who said some things that hurt deeply. I didn’t respond right away and have been considering my options.
Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, says that we have four options for responding to a negative message. One is to take it personally and blame ourselves. I often find myself going there. A second option is to blame the other person. A third option is to “shine the light of consciousness on our own feelings and needs,” and a fourth option is to “sense the other person’s feelings and needs as they are currently expressed.” When someone judges me, or when I judge someone or something, I can choose to see it as an “alienated expression of unmet needs.” In my recent encounter I think I experienced all four responses, not at the time but later as I reviewed what had been said. The most productive and healing were the latter two, when I considered my friend’s feelings and unmet needs as well as my own.