Saying the Right Thing

To start off, I’ve been reading a new book on cognitive therapy entitled “Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.” To say it’s life altering is something of an understatement, especially for people like me, who have borne the nickname “Worry Wart” and “Guilt-Monster” for almost two decades. I beat myself up over EVERYTHING. Did I say something that could be interpreted wrong and hurt someone’s feelings? What if that thing that seemed so innocuous at the time causes something horrible to happen in the future, and it will be my fault when everyone I love dies?

A high school friend used to joke, “Yes, Rambler. The mere fact that the sky is blue is your fault. When the sky finally falls, everyone will look around and say “Rambler?! Where is she? It’s all her fault!”

I take errors on my part very seriously, in part, because I always want to improve myself and be a better person – the person I believe I owe it to my mother to be. I don’t want to be the person who discourages someone from achieving something great – I don’t want to be that mental roadblock that makes someone feel bad about themselves. I make mistakes. Errare humanum est. So what? Prior to reading this book, I would have fretted over every mistake. I would have made a checklist of doom, ensuring my own defeat, because my checklist of “ALL THE THINGS I SHOULD AND SHOULD NOT DO” is endless. Impossible to memorize, but very possible to beat yourself up over if you fail and remember the failure, and then create a mantra of all your failures as a “reminder” to do better in the future. Sure, that’s gotten me by until now.

But, this book has opened my eyes to my guilt-laden ways of thinking. While talking to my sister earlier this afternoon about love, marriage, and a more positive worldview, I mentioned how funny it was that I often talk to people who will say things like “I loved that post about x” and I look at them confused because not a single person hit “like” on the FB post. The world is crazy busy and not everyone is an obsessive compulsive FBer like me. I recognize and understand this. But if you’re able to take the time to tell someone you like something, why are you so hesitant to do so online?

On some level, it comes down to privacy. Online, there is no guarantee that something you “like” will be private. When you’re online, you have to be cautious, you have to be wary of saying the wrong thing, lest prying eyes discover something you don’t want them to know. Or, perhaps it’s become the new popularity game.

Personally, I think it’s the same thing that keeps us timid, and keeps us from saying the positive things we think about other people private. When we say something nice, we expose something of ourselves, which in turn means we open ourselves up to some form of attack or critique. Part of this discussion really comes from a post my sister wrote about Mr. N, my 4th grade teacher. Mr. N was my lesson in telling people honestly all the nice things he thought about people. It didn’t matter that my mom was an impoverished single mother of four, who worked two jobs, lived on foodstamps, and whose kids often wore threadbare clothes from Goodwill or clothes drives… Mr. N always had something nice to say to my mom. And not just to her – about her, in front of other parents at Parent’s Night. In a world where my mother felt like nothing but a failure, he took the time to simply be kind. And that shaped not just her world, but mine. I wouldn’t be who I am if Mr. N hadn’t taken the time to recognize and see my mom. I can only imagine how tough it must have been for a teacher in an alternative school comprised of mostly well-off, extremely educated parents. But that’s who he was. And it’s who I want to be. My mom wrote Mr. N a letter when I was 17, because Mr. N continued to be an amazing role model in my little sister’s life. I may post the entirety of the letter at some point, because it shares so much of my mother’s soul, her pain, and how much those few kind words can go to help someone when they are hurting and alone… But until then, here’s an excerpt my sister posted.

I know that I will be eternally grateful to Mr. N not only for sharing his memories of my mom at parent’s night, but for sharing that letter with me. I cried the first time he showed it to me. When he gave me the original and two copies, I was so extremely touched that I didn’t know what to say.

I think, when it comes down to it, the issue is that we’re afraid.  We’re afraid of opening ourselves up for attack or criticism. We’re always looking for the right thing to say, whether it’s at work, online, to our friends or to our family. In this age of easily accessible words, most people think “less is more”… They’ll only “like” things if they are unafraid of any potential repercussions.  Which is fine – the internet, FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc, they’re all there for self-expression. And can I really blame folks? I mean, in the age of celebrity mishaps, it’s difficult not to learn from the impulsive, knee-jerk trends on the internet and reality TV.

But as I read this book, I realize just how important it is to take those simple steps to ignore the voices that keep telling you that you need to be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. You will eventually say the wrong thing. You will do the wrong thing. You will probably fuck up horribly quite a few times while walking this mostly green and blue earth. And you know what? That’s okay. Because, to err is human, and, as the saying goes, “to forgive is divine.” I told this to my mom before I went to Cambridge, when she asked me to forgive her. I told her I had nothing to forgive, and that she had my love. I can’t remember my exact words, but I know I had just read Paradise Lost, and told her that to forgive is divine, and that included forgiving herself. She seemed to think about it, but I don’t know if she knew how, in the face of the laundry-list she kept of all the things she thought she had done wrong.

So, as a note to myself, I’m throwing away my own laundry list. I’m going to hit “like” on anything that makes me smile, laugh, or just generally moves me to hit “like”. I am also going to forgive myself when I say or do the wrong thing. I will own my mistakes without being burdened by them.

In the end, saying the right thing really just means saying something. Acknowledge the beauty, the positive, and the light. Fight the urge to be negative, because it does affect you and everyone around you. It pushes people away, keeps them at a distance, whereas letting yourself say the wrong thing on occasion? Well, that just helps you see who your real friends are. 🙂

-The Rambler

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