Of the almost innumerable choices we make daily, perhaps the most consequential are the ones that impact those around us. The words we choose to use, our tone of voice, and the intent of our communication frequently have far-reaching and perhaps unintended consequences in our relationships with others. Certainly we should be aware of the potential impact of the communication choices we make.
As the recipient of those communications, we also have choices. We have no control over how an acquaintance, co-worker, or family member chooses to speak to us, but we have total control over how we choose to receive and respond. Each of us has had people say thoughtless or hurtful things to us. At that point, we have choices to make. Those choices affect us, the other person, and the future of our relationship.
We can choose to be offended, insulted, angry, hurt, rebuffed, or belittled. When we do, the tendency is to respond in kind or to react defensively. In the midst of these uncomfortable situations is a good time to take responsibility for our choice of response. While it is true that some people knowingly and willfully try to hurt and offend with their words, that is probably not the situation in most cases.
An old saying states, “You cannot judge another until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” But, actually, there is no way to put yourself fully into another’s shoes. None of us has had the same life experiences or been shaped by the same upbringing and struggles. No one’s brain processes information and sees the world in the exact same way as another does. Not everyone has had examples of how to speak in a respectful, kind, and considerate manner. So none of us is coming at situations or relationships from the same place or the same point of view. It is wise to remember that none of us is “right” all the time. What seems perfectly logical and correct to me may make no sense whatsoever to someone else.
The seemingly thoughtless or hateful comment may be made from ignorance or be based on different priorities and experiences. If we choose to respond in a neutral way, to defuse the situation, or to give the person the benefit of the doubt, we are accepting responsibility for our choices in the matter. We are choosing to put the relationship and the person as the priority rather than our wounded pride. This doesn’t mean we have to remain in a situation that is potentially harmful, and it may take a bit of time to work through hurt feelings.
The other choice we have is either to hold a grudge or to forgive and forget. Grudges take on a life of their own. Many relationships have suffered years of damage from a grudge that started with a thoughtless comment or action.
Perhaps never in recent history has there been more misunderstanding and assignment of ill-intent than in our current social and political discourse. Instead of blaming others, it might be worth pondering whether we are taking responsibility for the choices we make in these intensely emotional communications.
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