“Each word is endowed with a Spirit, therefor the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible…… And likewise He saith: One word is like unto springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another is even as a deadly poison.” ~ Bahà’u’llàh, Tablet of Masqud
Words have power and meaning beyond what we intend. I remember some work training that talked about “impact vs intent”. True then and now.
When I read the above quote I was reminded of a recent article in Trail Runner Magazine in which Jenn Shelton relates a run with Lance Armstrong. Say what you want about Lance. I have not had a need or desire to form any sort of opinion about him or his wins/cheating. However, when I read the article there was something that bothered me.
In it there is a section where Jenn talked about her training runs with Lance in which he indicates the beginning of a sprint to the finish by saying “Bitch, I’ma drop you right now”. That small statement carries a lot for me and I don’t like it.
Maybe it seems innocuous and compared to what is out there in the world at large it is relatively small but it is intensely negative. I could go on but it is easier to find record of someone saying hateful, hurtful things than it is to find someone being kind and courteous.
What we say matters. How we say it matters. What we mean when we say it matters.
This statement probably was meant to incite competition and it does so, but it is mean and derisive at the same time. So much so that all meaning beyond derision is lost for me. I see that and feel contempt, like she is “less than”, not worthy of respect. He could have said something different. He could have said “It’s go time!” or “Time to turn it up to 11!” (yes I love Spinal Tap) or something else. Anything to start a friendly competition without demeaning her.
Whether you agree or not, some people still see Lance Armstrong as a role model and hero (just look at the comments posted under the article or take a look at the most recent article about Lance following his win at a trail race).
I firmly believe that people in a position to be heard (which is everyone) especially those that have a platform to which multitudes listen to are enjoined to deliver their message with respect and kindness. People watch heroes and role-models, they emulate them and do what they do, say what they say and how they say it. Perhaps they want a piece of what that person has, their fame, their money, success or ability. If I do what they did maybe I’ll get rich…be famous…etc.
The Golden Rule
My point is that it perpetuates. Thinking and speaking this way perpetuates others thinking and speaking and behaving this way. Look at any myriad of self-help books or therapist shows (the real ones) or go to an AA meeting and listen to people who are working the Steps. I guarantee you will hear some form of “You get what you give.” The worlds major religions all have their version of the Golden Rule. What we put out into the world, we get back. I believe it. I put a lot of shit out into the world and I got it back. I earned that shit. Now I have the opportunity to earn my way free of it.
And we don’t have to accept what we get from people either. We can be doing the right thing and someone unloads their shit on us, dumps on us with inappropriate comments or language. We don’t have to take it. I could sit here and take Jenn’s inventory and say all that she “should” have done or said in response. In fact my first draft ended up that way. The truth of the situation may be that it didn’t cross her boundaries. Maybe she’s just fine with that and accepts it as a part of her life. Here’s where I quote Edmund Burke about all that evil needs to triumph.
I have two daughters. It is my job and my wife’s to help them learn how to interact with the world. Look anywhere for evidence of how hard it is for girls/women to get a fair shake. I’ll wait…. Doesn’t take long does it. I think we’re doing pretty well (I’m often scared I’m fucking them up for life but I think every parent secretly thinks that). My girls have the two us of in their corners, cheering them on and supporting them 100%. And if they read something like that it can tell them that people are allowed to talk to them that way. They see that the author did not correct or defend herself and they are told that it is OK for people to behave as if they are unworthy of respect.
This isn’t (just) about equality for women. It’s about equality for everyone. The entirety of humanity in all it’s varied glories regardless of age religion, orientation, birthplace or how many tattoos you have. Competitive sports, politicians, governments (I could keep going) all have a responsibility to their people. We have a responsibility to each other. I take that responsibility very seriously.
I don’t do it perfectly, I cannot, but I try and I will encourage and support anyone that is trying to do the next right thing. Stand your ground and express your feelings and opinions and do so in a manner you can tell your grandmother about. This is a generalization obviously, my grandmother and great-grandmother are rather crotchety and could have taken a lot of shit. They probably did actually.
Say what you mean, mean what you say but don’t say it mean.