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Can the Trash Talk

6F73A9CC-2368-4ED3-9D9E-9B1D3200C6ADForty-three years ago, our high school athletic coach asked me to be the scorekeeper for the boys’ basketball and baseball teams. I spent the next few years traveling all over the state, attending games and tournaments, learning more about basketball and baseball than I had ever imagined knowing.

As the official scorekeeper, sitting in the box between the two teams, I had a front-row seat for every game. In those days, players were not allowed to verbally harass the other team. To do so was considered unsportsmanlike conduct and, if caught by the referee, carried the penalty of a personal or technical foul.

Sometime during the intervening years, when I was not paying attention to sports, the rules changed. Now, not only is “trash talk” and “talking smack” allowed, it’s expected, even condoned. The more smack you talk, the better, tougher athlete you are. Really? How does making someone else out to be a loser, make you a winner? If you are truly confident in your superiority, why would you need to inhibit the performance of your opponent? Why would you even want to, for that matter? If you successfully undermine their performance, doesn’t that also diminish the significance of your victory? If you are genuinely superior, shouldn’t your abilities speak for themselves?

Avoiding “trash” and “smack” talk should be easy. Just steer clear of sporting events. Unfortunately, this style of communicating has become pervasive. It has leaked out of the arenas and stadiums and seeped into every facet of society from radio and television talk shows to social media comment sections to political events to backyards to playgrounds. And frankly, it’s ugly. No matter what the age, gender, color, religion, political affiliation, socioeconomic background, position, or situation – it is ugly.

Not only is it ugly, it is counterproductive and destructive. We are not only exposing the worst of ourselves to each other, but to the entire world. Is it only in tragedy that we are reminded of the great good we are capable of when we come together? What is it going to take to inspire us to speak and act from the best of ourselves? We are so much more than what we have become.

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Under the Anger and Behind the Words

mask_of_anger_by_fa_teldionThe current culture of anger is deeply disturbing to me.  Granted anger is a natural human emotion, a signal that something is awry.  However, it is both seductive and deceptive, creating the illusion of being in control when we are actually out of control.  Like wild animals with features that exaggerate their size when threatened, we feel bigger and tougher when we are angry.  

Anger is actually a secondary emotion, meaning that another feeling was experienced first, sometimes for only an instant.  Feelings that typically precede anger include fear, distress, disappointment, embarrassment, guilt, inadequacy, insecurity, or even fatigue or hunger.  The common factor shared by these emotions is the sense of vulnerability they produce.  Vulnerability makes us uncomfortable, so we revert to anger because we feel more powerful.  Therefore, anger arises from a sense of deficiency, surfacing when we are operating from a real or perceived deficit.  The deficit may exist in any number of areas from time, knowledge, ability, or confidence, to appreciation or love.  Anger is the mask of certainty we put on in the midst of a crisis of self doubt.

Sometimes anger becomes so automatic, it appears to be instantaneous, seemingly bypassing the original emotion altogether.  Like any habit, it becomes an unconscious choice, but a choice nevertheless.  As a defense mechanism, anger protects us from feelings we would rather deny.  It prevents us from taking responsibility for and dealing with our true feelings, allowing us to direct the energy from those uncomfortable feelings outward, against others.  We transfer the responsibility for our anger to the other person or group and justify our actions with the self-serving logic that since it’s their fault we are angry, they deserve whatever we dish out.  

As a destructive force, anger erodes relationships and precludes change.  Conversation, sabotaged by anger, quickly deteriorates into insults, accusations, and threats, lending to hostility – even violence.  Words spoken  and measures taken in anger eventually lead to regret, in the presence of a healthy conscience.  Wisdom would encourage us to examine the question, “Why are we so angry?,” prior to opening our mouth or taking action.  Advice worthy of deliberation considering it only takes a ‘d’ to turn anger into danger.     

Couples, Family, Parenthood, Personal Growth, Stories, Uncategorized

What Our Words Say About Us

thStanding at about five foot nothing, my grandmother was a woman of few words. But her face, especially her piercing, slate blue eyes, spoke volumes. I don’t ever remember her saying, “I love you,” but I will never forget how her face lit up when my two sisters and I walked through her door. Or that she always had Juicy Fruit in the wardrobe. Or how whenever she took a notion to make something, there were always three of them. Her actions revealed what she did not verbalize. Her economy of words taught me that those who say the least often have the most to say, and vice versa.

Mindful of grandma’s reticence, I listened that much more carefully when she did speak. One day, while sharing a hurtful encounter with a classmate that rendered me speechless, incapable of producing a witty retort, she took my hands in hers and said, “Carolyn, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” That advice has saved me countless times from the pain of remorse. The regret from what is never said is so much easier to bear than the regret from what is.

Holding my tongue has provided the opportunity to observe that what a person says reveals so much more about them than it does about the person to whom they are speaking. The eyes may be the windows to one’s soul, but words are the mirrors of one’s mind. In these days of attempting to excuse hurtful, cruel, malicious, ugly talk with the simple justification, “I’m just saying what’s on my mind,” I can’t help wondering, what does that say about our minds?