Historically, I’ve considered a parental threat…or the action….to wash the mouth of a child out with soap….to be both inappropriate and abusive. Now, in our current climate of so many adults speaking out inappropriately and offensively on TV, in offices, social settings, and on social media, I’m thinking perhaps too few children experienced that threat!
But to “walk that statement back a little,” I’m truly thinking about the process of growing up and being taught to be respectful of others, to THINK before speaking, and to be able to examine thoughts, feelings, and WORDS when interacting with other people. From bullying in our schools, to high level executives making racist and sexist comments, to video “rants” recorded and posted, to the day to day arguments among work associates, friends, and family members, it’s truly important to stop and examine what is going on.
Where does permission to “act out inappropriately” start? Certainly most get the first “instruction” for what’s appropriate from parents. It also comes from teachers, coaches, Sunday school classes. And by the age of 11 or 12, the peer group has the ability, at least temporarily, to be more dominant in determining behavior. But WHAT is going on with adults right now? Without “grounding” in “right” behavior growing up, there’s a distinct disadvantage! And wherever you get your news of the day, it’s clear that people are behaving and SPEAKING INAPPROPRIATELY!
Let’s examine the process in the time between a THOUGHT/FEELING of anger or disappointment or perhaps even rage and actually deciding to express it verbally or post it on social media. Healthy, thoughtful, emotionally intelligent people can typically stop themselves in that short time lapse between “the urge” to say or do something angry, rageful, or just blatantly inappropriate; however, there are clearly many, many people who have either lost or perhaps never possessed, impulse control. The depth of psychological issues implied is complex and the purpose here is simply basic, bottom line self examination, thoughtful reflection on feelings and behaviors. And beyond that personal reflection, what’s the impact of this apparently spreading negativity and inability to talk in a civil manner, on our society?
Doesn’t everyone have negative, angry thoughts? And don’t those thoughts sometimes get expressed verbally or behaviorally? Yes, for most of us, the answer is yes. The more important questions: What is the frequency? What is the intensity? How often does it occur? Did it create even more conflict? Did it accomplish anything at all? Is there immediate or quick regret? Is there an effort to make amends?
I genuinely wish I could offer guaranteed explanations for the disruption and the tension in our lives….from basic day to day disagreements in families about almost anything you can imagine, to work conflicts, to the currently growing intensity of political arguments, but all I can offer is the suggestion to examine the “need to be right.” The most thoughtful among us frequently hold on to the “rightness” of a thought or action. Just being conscious of that urge and where it takes you — both in thoughts and behavior — can be the most helpful thing to explore. It’s not important to back away from thinking “I’m right”…..it’s important to examine it, to wait to hear the opinion/thought of the other person, and to actually try to talk across the differences.
Avoiding unnecessary conflicts is an important pay off in decreasing speaking in anger and hurtful ways. Clearly it helps the relationship. And just as important it helps the person speaking. The angry and negative conversation hurts, even harms the PERSON SPEAKING as much as the individual on the receiving end of the negativity. We DO hurt ourselves in angry and inappropriate interactions. So my suggestion: take a deep breath before you speak or before you head to the computer or pick up your phone to send a negative message. Ask: What will I accomplish? How will I feel later? How does it feel to simply NOT say or write what’s in my head? Point? We all deserve to feel better, and sometimes that outcome is possible through genuine self examination. And don’t over look the possibility, the strong possibility, of learning something from the person you so strongly disagree with.
As always, let me know if you have questions.