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Sticks and Stones May Break Bones, But Words Really !@#$ing Hurt [Hyperbolic Tendancies]

Today, I made someone cry.

I didn’t hit them or shove them down the stairs. I wasn’t screaming at them, brandishing a weapon, or kidnapping their child. I made them cry without any desire or plan to reduce them to weeping in public.

I did it simply with words.

A vast majority of my life is spent in the company of words. Whether searching for the right synonym, stringing a few together to create irony or a laugh, or toiling over just the right adjective, words to me are what butter, cream and salt are to the chef – the basic ingredients of pretty much everything.

Words are also the things in which I take comfort and solace, like my old friends, because in many ways that’s what they are. I’m comfortable with words the way a fireman is running into a burning building to save someone.

Which is why I was stunned into silence as the kind, sane and intelligent person sitting across from me in a meeting that was really and truly about nothing important, began to well up and then whispered, “I feel like I’m being attacked” as tears spilled.

And in that moment, my insides violently turned themselves inside out. My face burnt with the fire of embarrassment and the bile rose so quickly from my gut I didn’t even feel the sting in my throat, just the sour taste rolling across my tongue. I excused myself, went to the bathroom and vomited.

I rinsed my mouth and washed my face with cold water and caught my own eye in the mirror, feeling the deep, abiding, and consuming shame that makes us human. I hadn’t felt it since I was trying to pray the gay away in long sessions, prostrate in front of the Catholic church alter as a distraught teenager. And to be honest, I like it far less now.

I managed to pull myself together and apologize profusely to my colleague who was gracious enough to feign acceptance and even comment that they know they’re a bit oversensitive.

The rest of the day was spent drifting in and out of a shame-fueled haze, but it finally occurred to me that because I spend so much time with words, I tend to lose sight of the fact that – thank our lucky stars – not everyone does. When this familiarity with words and my constant verbalization of thoughts is coupled with what my mother so generously referred to as my “passionate nature” it creates a conversational dynamic that’s akin to fire-walking…very, very slowly.

My admittance of this in no way absolves me of having been a grade-A jackass earlier in the day. It just means that maybe I’m finally able to understand the meaning of the old adage, “seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.”

I’m working hard to view this debacle as a reminder to choose my words wisely. Just as when a politician publicly states so matter-of-factly that I’m not worthy of marriage and it hurts me, those words with which I’m familiar and toss out there so casually can do the same.

Words have meaning. Words matter. And in the end, it’s all we really have. We should choose wisely.

So today I choose, “I am sorry” and hope my colleague can truly forgive me.

Choosing your words wisely a bit too daunting to tackle today? Instead, read a copy of Hell House: The Awakening. It’s guaranteed escapism as its finest! That’s not enough fodder for procrastination? Then follow me and my hyperbolic tendencies on Twitter @rbripley.

featured image credit: NIST2018