"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Bones will heal, but a broken spirit is hard to resurrect. After constantly being told that you are a failure and will not amount to anything, unless a person is strong, words start to seep into the psyche. Those words become shackles, heavy and hard to break. Not everyone has the fortitude of a Michael Jordan to turn negativity, being told you are not a good enough basketball player, into becoming the greatest legend in the history of the game. We are so careless with our words in person and particularly online. We have no problem saying mean and spiteful things via social media that we would not dare say in person. A friend refers to online "trolls" as keyboard gangsters who have a sense of safety from retribution hiding behind their computer screen.
How do we combat the negativity? It is an old fashioned notion, but common courtesy is the key. We have become so desensitized to the needs, wants, and struggles of others. When will we learn that what happens around the corner, down the block, in another city, or country has ripple effects on our lives? The internet has made our world smaller, but we have not become more communal as a result. We fail to acknowledge each other for fear of having to engage. Why are we so short on kindness, but quick to judge and criticize?
The other week, I entered the elevator and a woman hopped on. I said, "Good morning." She looked at me and said, "I have worked here for 10 years and it is so rare that anyone has said that to me in the elevator. It's a shame that we go on our daily lives without acknowledging a person's existence." It is a shame because a simple salutation can change someone's day.
I do not always receive feedback and wonder if what I wrote spoke to someone. The other night, I received a text message from a reader. Her words inspired and encouraged me. They spoke life to my heart and soul. My goal with all of my posts is to inspire laughter, tears, encouragement, and strength. There is a proverb that the tongue holds the power of life and death. Every day, we have the ability to speak strength and encouragement to our family, coworkers, friends, and strangers. Or, we can destroy them with our words.
"A happy heart is like good medicine, but a broken spirit dries the soul."
There is such brokenness in our world. Police brutality and civil tensions highlight a broken trust between established authority and the communities it is supposed to serve and protect. Homelessness is not a product of laziness. Harsh economic times, downsizing, and the lack of full-time permanent jobs contribute to homelessness, particularly the working homeless. Children under 18 years old make up a quarter of the homeless population according to a 2013 HUD report. College graduates are wondering whether the American dream is attainable. After investing four years of college and close to six figures in debt, the lack of job prospects has broken the spirit of our youth. The threat of a student loan debt bubble only exacerbates the anxiety felt by those that sought solace in Occupy Wall Street.
With all the angst and frustration, a kind word could be the difference between holding on and giving up. Yet, society glamorizes "mean girls" and bullying culture. From celebrities to athletes to our school children, we blame the victims of bullying for not standing up and we incentivize bullies for "showing strength." We shame those that have less or cannot "keep up with the Joneses."
How about using our words to build up our communities and heal old wounds that have festered and long divided this nation? Our praise of someone should be twice as loud as our criticism of them. If someone is looking good, say it. When I see a woman with a nice handbag or heels that I love, I tell her: "I have purse/shoe envy. I love that bag or shoes." Go ahead. Make someone feel special. Give unsolicited words of kindness. That kind word is like ointment to wound of a broken spirit.
We are all in need of a kind word to gather us around the community table to discover that we are more alike than we are different. Come let us reason together. The saying goes, "kill your enemies with kindness." If kindness maims enemies, then its ability to breathe life into a hurting heart is even more powerful.
"Right before me the signs implore me:
Help the needy and show them the way.
Human kindness is overflowing,
and I think it's gonna rain today."