December 14, 2012

Deja Vu Blogfest: Words, Otherwise Beautiful, Can Be So Harmful

Today I'm participating in the Deja Vu Blogfest (thanks DL Hammons!).
The object is to re-post my favorite blog offering from 2012. Words, Otherwise Beautiful, Can Be So Harmful was a very personal piece that seemed to resonate with people, so I wanted to take this opportunity to re-post it (from 6/28/12).
“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”
Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls

Words have power. They can inspire and destroy.

Last week, the lovely Callie Leuck wrote an amazing post, Some People Can't Mind Their Ps and Qs. She shares customers' comments while she performed in a living history museum, and also discusses how hateful people can be with negative book reviews.

It struck a chord with me.

Be Mindful of What You Say
My oldest daughter was given several gifts from her paternal Mexican great-grandfather. Like him, she has beautiful olive skin, black hair, and dark brown eyes. So many times as a teen I prayed for a tan. My skin knows two colors: red or white. I am quite fair with blue eyes and dark red/brown hair. My husband has the black hair and dark eyes, but fair skin (although he tans when he has time to soak up sun).

Twenty months after our first daughter, we welcomed another. She takes after me with insanely fair skin, green eyes, and golden brown hair (okay that's after my mother).

The comments have never stopped.

When I was obviously pregnant with baby #2, I can't tell you how many times women came up to me and said:

"Congratulations, you can get pregnant!"

I looked at the beautiful little girl in my arms and didn't try to mask my confusion. They would continue:

"You hear it all the time. You adopt a baby and then immediately get pregnant. So glad it worked for you."

Or, you don't want to know how often I've heard this question:

"Where did you get her?"

At first I didn't know how to respond. Now I say, "The doctor handed her to me after I pushed her out."

Now that my oldest is twelve, she fields a lot of these "what are you" questions. People have asked her if she's my foster child, people pull her sister aside and ask if she's adopted or from a different father. People assume she isn't mine. I'm astounded in this day and age that people are so perplexed by the color of her skin and details of her features.

Curiosity is Not an Excuse for Insensitivity
I understand curiosity. I do. But I don't understand how a moment of curiosity in the brain travels out from the mouth without any consideration. My daughter has cried about not fitting in. I tell her everyday how beautiful she is.

We cannot control our thoughts or even judgmental moments of weakness. But we can, and should, control the things that come out of our mouths. Or worse yet, get written in emails, texts, Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. I tell my preteen daughter... what you write in a moment of anger, hurt, sadness, meanness can and will live on in perpetuity.

Just last night at a swim meet, a woman said to me (quite loudly with my daughter standing right next to me), "Man she has dark skin." I could see the pain on my daughter's face. Kids her age were standing around. She doesn't want to feel different right now, but I hope she grows to love her beauty and individuality.

Beyond My Experience
I calm myself by blaming people's insensitivity on curiosity and poor manners. What I cannot understand is why some people get so heated when they review places and items online.

Specifically for book reviews, not everyone likes the same thing. There's a huge difference between pointing out what you didn't like about a book or offering constructive criticism and attacking an author personally. Maybe it's because I understand the blood, sweat, and tears most authors put into their books. Regardless, there's a person behind every book, restaurant, product, retail shop, and service reviewed online. The words left behind can be damaging to people's careers, livelihoods, and self-worth.

Remember that what you say or write travels quickly past a person's mind to their heart. Before you commit your thoughts to words and actions, take a few seconds to consider how you would feel if someone said that about you or someone you loved.

Last November, I wrote a post about bullying and the power of words: The Power of Words: Adult Bullying. A man my sister worked with was chastised for his weight all his life. He considered, on several occasions, committing suicide. It's a powerful reminder of the weight of our words.

Do you think "attacking" reviews should be removed from online sites?


Elise Fallson said...

I remember this post Tia and it's such a good one. "Curiosity is not an excuse for insensitivity" so, so true. Words are powerful and people sometimes forget that. There's a saying in French "Tourner sept fois sa langue dans sa bouche avant de parler." Which means you should roll your tongue 7 times in your mouth before speaking. It sounds weird translated into English but we get the gist. I know how mean kids can be at school, but I'm sure all your girls know by now how beautiful and special they are. (:

DL Hammons said...

I love that quote by Jodi...and the meaning behind it. As bad as adults can be, kids can be far worse. It boils my blood to listen to how people talk about others sometimes.

Excellent choice to re-post! Thank you for taking part today!! :)

Tia Bach said...

Thanks, Elise & DL. I'm always amazed what people will say out loud. As someone who loves words, I hate it when they are used to make people feel bad.

Love this blogfest, and I'm looking forward to hopping around and seeing everyone's entries.

Thanks for hosting, DL!

StratPlayerCJF said...

Powerful post! Fabulous quote, and a tremendous message in what you've written. Some people never cease to amaze me with how insensitive, ignorant, and opinionated they can be.

It's a paradox -- our kids, like all of us humans, want so much to be accepted and to fit in, but then also want to be unique and to stand out as individuals. And rude people will make negative comments about us as we strive for either one, whether as people or as writers and artists.

Great post for Deja Vu day!

Carrie-Anne said...

A lot of people these days have absolutely no brain-mouth filter! Some of these comments wouldn't have even been considered or articulated out loud 50+ years ago, yet today it's considered perfectly acceptable to voice them. I've heard plenty of stories from people with more than 2-3 kids who get asked if their younger kids were mistakes, or who ask why they're expecting another baby if they have, say, 3 girls and a boy, like everyone stops after getting at least one boy and girl.

Tami Von Zalez said...

I think even negative reviews can be helpful sometimes.

Visiting from the Deju Vu Blogfest.

Come and join my Countdown to Kitschmas -

Jennifer Shirk said...

I love this: At first I didn't know how to respond. Now I say, "The doctor handed her to me after I pushed her out."

Good thoughtful re-post, Glad I got a chance to read this today!

JJ said...

I cannot answer your question, but we are responsible for our words. Great post! I am now your newest follower.

Beth said...

Your daughters are blessed to have such a wonderful mother! We get a lot of comments, too, so I know what you mean.

farawayeyes said...

There is no excuse for bad behavior and some people simply do not know how to behave. Wonderful post. Something we all should remember. Thank you.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

A wonderful post. It's cringe-worthy how some people open their mouths and let the words fly without giving any thought to how much pain they can inflict.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Oh wow. I am horrified by the insensitivity and ignorance shown by people when they open their mouths. Sadly, as far as we've come in this country towards accepting people of all race and creeds, we still have a LONG way to go. Assumptions about skin and hair color and nationality are still rampant -- and for pity's sake, it's no business of strangers whether the children with you are yours, adopted, foster, or neighbor children you are taking out for a treat.

Shannon Lawrence said...

This is true in so many ways. I have a friend who is in a mixed race marriage. They have four boys. The oldest is light skinned, blue eyed and blond, while the other three took after mom. She's constantly asked if he's adopted, whereas the dad is constantly asked if the other three are adopted. Why do people think they have a right to ask those questions? I know they don't do it to be rude, but you'd think people would learn not to do it at all.

You have a good view of it, though.

Shannon at The Warrior Muse

Jenny said...

This is such a great post. I'm amazed at how so many people apparently feel it's okay to say whatever they want whenever they want, either in person or online.

Cindy Dwyer said...

Good point about curiosity - yes, some people need a filter before their random thoughts become verbal.

My (white) cousin's husband is African American. When she was out alone with her young daughter, she was amazed at the number of people would would chide her for letting a baby get a tan. As if.

Great post.

Unknown said...

It's dreadful enough people would make such insensitive comments to you, but to make them to your daughter is beyond belief. When did good manners disappear? (Probably when rap music came out, I think...) I'm glad your daughter has you in her corner to advise and support her. :-)

Jo Michaels said...

How freaking mean can people be? I struggle with the same thing but on a different scale. I have four sons two with my first husband, two with my second, but the oldest and youngest favor. People look at the younger two all the time and ask me if they're full brothers. Even though it's an innocent question, it stings. Sorry you have to endure that insensitive ilk. Your daughters are BEAUTIFUL. Hugs! WRITE ON!

Tia Bach said...

Thanks everyone! All of your comments mean so much. This post was one I really felt passionate about, so I'm glad I had the opportunity to share it again.

I look forward to getting around to read all of your entries to the blogfest.

Guilie Castillo said...

Great post, Tia. You're right--in this day and age people should be much more used to diversity all around them. The days of "spotless" bloodlines and communities of uniform blue-eyed fair-skinned members are long gone. Both your daughters are gorgeous, and I'm sure they'll both grow up to appreciate themselves and each other, as well as turn a kind smile on the poor souls that have no filter between their heads and their mouths.

On the subject of reviews... Yes, scathing comments are all too popular now. On one hand I'm partial to the thick-skin mode of thought: opinions are ubiquitous, nothing we can do about it. Take restaurants as an example: if I visit one in which the food is plain inedible, the service is rude and obnoxious, prices are through the roof, the place is dirty--I literally saw roaches on my way to the toilet--wouldn't I be remiss in saying so? If sharing my experience might help someone else avoid a similar one, isn't it my responsibility to do so?

On the other hand, there's no need for me to be deliberately nasty or rude myself. I can recount the issues without stooping to insult the staff or the owner. I can even direct my comments to the owner, so that action can be taken. If they ignore me, so be it, but my critique doesn't need to be nasty in order to be effective.

Great food for thought here. Thanks for resharing!