Words are curious creatures aren’t they? They can “cut like a knife” or be “music to our ears.” When someone we love speaks sweetly to us, we often find ourselves, “hanging on their every word.” Since my Crohn’s diagnosis, I’ve heard plenty of words and more times than not I’ve deemed them to be of the “cutting” kind.
1) “I wish I had Crohn’s. Just for a week though, then maybe I could lose some weight too!”
2) “You look normal now, never lose that much weight again, you looked terrible.”
3) “Should you be eating that?”, “Don’t you think those vegetables will rip you up?”, “Maybe that’s how you got Crohn’s in the first place.”
From The Always Too Jolly Nurse at My Gastroenterologist’s Office:
4) “If you’re gonna have Crohn’s disease, Crohn’s Colitis (of the colon) is the one you want.”
5) “I thought people with Crohn’s were skinny.”
6) “Have you tried…?”
7) “Are you sure you have Crohn’s? I think you may have been misdiagnosed because you don’t look sick.”
At first listen I considered these comments, these words, to be insensitive and uncaring. I thought, “How dare you say something so thoughtless, so mean… and to a sick person!” But after some reflection, I questioned whether or not these comments were in fact “thoughtless and mean.” Maybe and maybe not, I can honestly say I have no idea how they were intended to be heard.
So I ask you dear reader, how much weight do words truly carry?
The answer is none, until the listener decides.
I can chose to remain upset or I can chose to believe the comments I’ve heard were born out of ignorance and misinformation. Spoken by people who thought they knew more than they did. And if I look a little deeper, these comments may have come from a place of caring and concern and the words that came out of the speaker's mouth were the best they could come up with.
The knee-jerk reaction for remedying such misinformation is usually, RAISE AWARENESS!
Here’s an idea, instead of raising awareness for every cause, every disease, and every disorder, what if we worked on raising awareness of ourselves? What if, before we opened our mouths to speak, we paused to ask ourselves: “How will my words serve?”
Need help? Here are a few suggestions for navigating the waters of conversation from one of my favorite books, “Dancing with the Ten Thousand Things,” by Tom Balles:
Become a better listener: Do your best to listen. Refrain from thinking of what you are going to say in response. Resist the urge to fix, recommend, or suggest. Let your listening shape their speaking.
Ask open-ended questions: Asking, “What’s going on?” will encourage someone to open up more than accusatory questions like, “Should you be doing that!?”
Create partnership: Ask your friend or coworker (chronically ill or not) for specific ways you can become a better partner (e.g. what helps them laugh, what motivates them in moments of discouragement.) Adopt and act on their answer for the sake of the relationship.
So if you are feeling misunderstood, speak up. And know that there will always be people with preconceived notions that might never fully understand your situation. The beauty is YOU get to decide if the conversation is worth having and what weight the words will have.
|Photo credit: iStockphoto|