Friday, February 23 2024 - 3:47 PM
modern take on aggravating words
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Sparring with Words

For all the personal revelations I’ve uttered out of my mouth, only about a third of them ever seem to hit a listening ear and sink in. The rest of them seem to run into all kinds of oncoming objects flying fast and low in my direction. And I know I am not alone in this experience. I have regularly noted how most conversations remotely deep and personal often (at least from my seat in the stands) look like a good tennis match with serves up to 100 miles per hour. Wham! Wham! Whaaaammmm!

Word Match

And whereas Wimbledon limits women to the best out of three, and men, the best out of—is it six? This is not the case with the game played by us ordinary humans. Our matches have no suited bloke up in the high chair bringing the match to an end. They can go on for days, even weeks. Hey, I’ve met people who are still volleying hard on a match that started years ago.

And why on earth? Where on this planet do we find the silliness to whack the stuff back and forth ad nauseam? I must say that “why” is a very valuable question to ask ourselves; I think we all deserve to know why. I have found that knowing the why about such a thing as this usually demystifies its power, shutting down the little motor that has kept it running against our better judgment all these years.

So why on earth do we spar with our words? Why can a perfectly good and humane line of reasoning sent our way resurrect our worst habits of self-preservation and lead to an all-out verbal war? I think the answer is right there in the last half of the question. If I cannot hear what you are saying, it is probably that I think I need preserving, i.e. something you are saying I have translated into my consciousness as about me. Thus, it’s potentially dangerous to my life, my person, and maybe even my posterity.

I Can’t Hear You

It matters not which words are actually said. It matters not what the smiling person forming the words means or thinks. And it doesn’t even matter if there’s some good that can come of it. If I translate your lyrics as an indictment against me, I might as well be dressed in uniform. Air raid sirens start blaring all over my psyche, and I instinctively come to my own rescue.

Simply put, I cannot listen to you and really hear you because I take what is all about you (you are the one speaking, after all) and I make it all about me. So it’s not that you’re having a rough patch, it’s that I’m at fault. It’s not that you’re all tanked up because there is some confusion and pain in your life. No; I’m the problem.

For whatever the deeper reasons may be (which we hardly have time to address here), if I allow any of what you are seeking to express and unload to translate onto my personhood in any way, I will not be able to hear you. I will have to wall you out with a smash of words and counteract your conversation with a few volleys about ME. It’s really very selfish if you think about it for a while. And it’s also very sad, sad because we all desperately want to be heard and known.

It’s All About Me?

What happens when I make your story about me is that you get lost in it all and you are never heard. I think this happens a lot to parents. Kids express their pain in weird (dare I say familiar) ways. We cannot sit down and listen and wipe their tears and let them rant, which is probably the most Jesus-like thing we could do—and highly beneficial. Instead, we shut them up or down with words and even time in their rooms. They tell us about them and we argue back about ourselves! Yes, and why? I’d have to contend that it is because we cannot hear their pain and confusion without making it about us and ours.

And so the tennis lessons start early. Instead of your revelation about you being heard, I argue about you with a word about me. Can you see the insanity of it? In Matthew 15:18 Jesus actually pointed out very clearly that what comes out of a person’s mouth was actually what was in their heart, not mine.

It makes good sense what Jesus said. You are saying it, yes, so then it must be a reflection of you and your feelings. This means that no matter how negative it is or how many times my name is looped into the story you’re telling, it’s not about me! Even if you take on a blaming tone (and we all do this way too much) and vilify the characters in your story—and I’m in your story. It’s still your heart speaking, not mine. So I don’t need to fight back for my honor. It’s still not about me!

Jesus’ Teachings

I’ve always known that Jesus was wise. His teachings on us humans could clear the air in the noisiest of relationships, and yet I remain in awe. Jesus, for every why I’ve asked, has a slip of a sentence here or there that sets things straight. For this, I remain grateful. Yes, and so are all my friends and family. I don’t think they miss my serves at all, not to mention my silly tennis outfits.

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If you liked this, you might also like I Love to Argue | How to Avoid Arguments, Deal with Disputes, and Stop Fighting 

Claire Worley writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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About Claire Worley

Claire Worley

writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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