Friday, October 29, 2010

The Least of Me.

It seems I have spent a good many years saying things that inadvertently hurt people's feelings.  Back in the day, it happened a lot more often.  Mostly because I really didn't care.  Here's a section from my play, Praying Small:

"Once something is said, once it passes the lips and mouth, once it spills out into the air like toxic waste in front of us...well, that's as permanent as it gets, folks.  You can't go home again and you can't ever take nothin' back."

I guess as we get older it becomes more important to be on constant alert as to how our words are guaged and weighed by others.  Now, strangely, I'm not talking about myself.  Yesterday someone very dear to me was inadvertantly hurt by someone else's words.  It bothered me all day and all night.  Even though I wasn't (this time) the cause of this hurt, my empathy button was pushed and I obssessed over it a great deal.

The things we say, offhandedly or not, carry so much power, it seems.  They are misunderstood or taken to heart or just plain given way too much importance.  I sort of know how this works.  On the recieving end, I mean.  With critics.  I can't really say too much about the nice things that have been written about me over the past three decades onstage...but I can quote, word for word, the bad things written about me.

Approval is a tricky thing.  Regard is a tricky thing.  It's all tied up in self-worth.  And regardless what the Hallmark cards say, it is important what others think of us.  Despite the American platitudes of self-confidence we hear from every money hungry, self-help, self-appointed guru that dodges and slithers his or her way through life on the way to the bank, gossip and malicious backroom talk hurts.

I grew up in a family that didn't give a whit about the awful, stinging, scathing words that were spit out all over my childhood house.  As Sondheim so perfectly wrote, "Children will listen."  Indeed.  And adults.  And they leave scars, sometimes tiny ones, nearly unseen, and sometimes large ones, gaping wounds we carry around in our id from day to day for years on end.

We can forgive sometimes, that's a gift from our better angels.  But we can't forget.  That's just being human.  And when bad things are said about good people, it sticks in my craw.  When I was in high school, the most significant time for develpment, I was a walking dichotomy of this.  On the one hand, I think in many ways I was a bully.  I had been so stripped of self-worth by a drunken family life that often times, quite unaware, I belittled others in a vain search for acceptance.  I don't think this is terribly unusual.  On the other hand, I was keenly, if not painfully, aware of someone's inability to defend themselves.  Through sheer instinct I only picked on the pompous and arrogant.  And I was never afraid of physical consequences.  I had a fistfight almost every weekend, it seems.  In those formative years, odd as it sounds to an adult, there is that element: fear for one's safety.  That fear didn't exist for me so I wasn't the least bit afraid of verbally attacking someone twice my size.  But I drew the line at the timid and the meek.  Not only that I championed their cause.  Attacking someone that didn't deserve it was always my pet peeve. 

Anyway, the gist of this, I suppose, is to be nice.  Be kind to one another.  Be empathetic.  Do unto others, and all that. 

I have a few friends that truly inspire me in this regard.  They never, under any circumstances, say something, even in private, that might hurt someone.  I can't say that about myself, although I wish I could. 

For the most part I really disdain religious services, especially Christian services.  This from a lifetime of witnessing the jaw-dropping hypocracy from so many insincere Christian zealouts.  But long ago I found myself in a Christian service and the pastor did something interesting.  Upon entering the chapel, he gave everyone a white sheet of paper and a pen.  He asked us, during the sermon, to draw a picture of the person we hated the most in our life.  The person who causes us the most pain.  The bully in our life.  The boss.  The landlord.  The cop.  The banker.  The ex-wife or ex-husband.  Then he pinned them all to a board and asked us all, one by one, to come up and throw a dart at the picture, get all our anger out, be done with it, leave it in that chapel, on that dart board, stuck on that person causing us pain.  And when we had all done that and were all feeling in fine fettle, he peeled away all the pictures.  One by one.  And the last picture was of Jesus.  And he had about 300 holes in his face.  The pastor said simply, 'What you do to the least of me, you do to me.'

I think that's from Luke, but I'm not certain.

Anyway, I liked that service and I liked that message. 

Let's be nice to one another out there. 

See you tomorrow.

1 comment:

debgrems said...

In my opinion, another powerful blog. I too, grew up in an alcoholic family and those verbal scars are always there. I do try to live by the "Golden Rule", but I have at times stuck my foot in my mouth and said something hurtful. I also find it really ironic how so many of us who grew up together in school were fighting the same battles and we tried to hide it in different ways.