For years, I have straddled a lie. I have positioned myself as one who believes that sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me, and at the same time I know that there are plenty of names that can inflict pain. These are the lessons of youth, as well as the struggle of being human. We all know that, when backed into a corner, there are directed and aimed words that are thrown around with malice and forethought. When I think back about all the fights I have had in my life, very few of them have involved punches being thrown. This does not mean that I have not hurt anyone. This is why I have spent my teaching career educating children to use their words. Not in a harsh or evil way, but in a caring and careful way.
This means that sentences like "Your mom is so..." are not not going to help. Most of the phrases that address the other person first turn out to be challenges rather than reconciliation. The really useful ones are those that start with "I." I-Messages are something that we teach little kids to help them express complicated feelings. "I don't like it when you kick my backpack." At the same time, we are teaching children to hear those messages and heed them. This sometimes turns out to be even more difficult than the giving the message in the first place. If you are stuck in a place that doesn't allow much room between action and reaction, caring about how another person feels often gets lost in the blur of emotions that make up a day.
And every so often, it works just like it's supposed to. That is when the magic happens. Fists unclench. Brows unfurrow. Tears dry. Smiles return. And the business of the day continues. I want to believe that are the moments when our society grows stronger. Bonds are made. Peace replaces chaos.
America is a tough playground. There isn't a lot of listening going on. That makes empathy a pretty scarce commodity. Hearing the pain and making room to let the air out of hate and fear as it strains to take over all our interactions. And the understanding that it takes a lot of strength to say, "I'm sorry." Making mistakes is part of being human. We can all stand to be a little more human to each other. Use your words.