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How do we recover from words that hurt?
I’m known to have a sharp tongue. A hot-mouth is what they called me and so over the years I’ve laboured on maturing in that area and, well, I’m still enrolled.
I own books like Words That Hurt, Words That Heal by Carole Mayhall, Me and My Big Mouth by Joyce Meyer, When to Speak Up and When To Shut Up by Dr Michael Sedler, and many other titles in that genre of life-changing-through-tongue-lashing literature about your filthy mouth.
Bible quotes such as James 3:8 “But the tongue can no man tame, it is an unruly evil full of deadly poison” have been my daily prompt. And in the Proverbs, I’ve found an instructive one that says, “When words are many sin is not absent.”
My bend to change has come from personal convictions about my sometimes ungraciousness, but the hurt placed on me by the mouths of others has provided impetus.
Very early I learned that the idiom “Sticks and stones may break my bones (but words will never hurt me)” is a lie, a ploy to get children to deflect hurtful criticism/slander.
As an eight-year-old I was told by a classmate that I was “as poor as a ‘sursh’ rat” (sic)” and, while I had not as yet recognised the abject poverty in which I lived, she ensured I appreciated her malevolence, telling me in the presence of laughing schoolmates, “You have no fwigze (sic), you eh hah no TV and yuh does iron on a coal pot.”
That really hurt and I think I would have preferred to fight and lose than to be smacked down with such an insult.
It seemed not our fault for being without those appliances—we had no electricity until 1978—but in an effort to understand my hurt, I went home and asked my mother if I was poor. In her calmest voice she enquired why I wanted to know and I repeated the incident.
Hmm. Lawd. If you only knew my mother’s pride level, eh! Her black face seemed a bluish purple as she leaned into me, and with a voice belying the cool demeanour of one minute before, she bellowed, “Yuh have somewhere to sleep? Yuh have clothes? You eat food today?”
I doubt if she heard my answers, but having responded to each question, she then declared, “Well then, you not poor. Go back and tell her that you have beauty and brains and that is all you need to carry you through life.”
My mother shielded me with her wisdom. Her uncomplicated philosophy has buoyed my entire life. But I learned children could be brutal!
Now, with a recovering mouth, and smarting from the punishing I’ve had from the mouths of others, I’m circumspect about the power of words. Words hurt more than sticks and stones and do irreparable damage. Whether it’s under the ruse of picong, gossip, salvo, or exposè, all words that are damaging cause long-term injury.
Those uttered publicly and particularly in politics and open forums, which are then repeated ad infinitum, I know, contribute to instability in societies.
So ruffled am I by the ongoing acrimony of political opponents, that even as the dust of the THA elections begins to settle, I’m already in dread of the upcoming local-government election campaigning and the run-up to the next general election.
This place is steeped with abuses, which seem bent to character assassination. And if we do not quickly employ campaign regulations on advertising, especially truth in advertising, then in nursery-rhyme conjecture, London Bridge will fall down—and right on top of us.
It seems that slander, provoking accusations, and all manner of cruelty are the chosen paths of expression here, where, in the words of US President Barack Obama, we “treat name-calling as reasoned debate” and infuse “suspicion and fear of those who appear different to us” either by class, ethnicity or partisanship.
Vegetables, vessels from India and Africa, and some measure of violence all formed the headlines in a vituperative campaign, and at the end of the day, that’s what we will remember.
The wilfulness of our intent to break each other’s back was compounded by my Prime Minister’s campaign attire, in which she clothed herself in “Ill-judging indulgence” to proclaim she has “court clothes,” whereas it seemed to me that she was best placed, as leader of an entire nation, to pronounce invectives against the proliferation of villainous hustings conduct.
This is a most unfortunate juncture in our affairs. But, now, who is going to help us heal as we reintegrate into our communities to live in neighbourly repose?
As citizens of T&T, when our leaders exhibit divisiveness, we must resolve to hold ourselves to a standard marked not just by the exercise of the franchise to vote, but by the values upheld as others canvass for our vote—or mark my words, crapaud will smoke we pipe.
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