Stop, Drop, and Roll

By Mark E. Smith

The major arguments that my wife and I have had, fortunately, have been few and far between. Neither of us is emotionally cut out for the type of drag-out fights that some couples routinely engage in. What we’ve learned from the major arguments we’ve had is that they left us both feeling sad and emotionally bruised – not a dynamic we wish in our marriage.

Among the reasons why our arguments were so emotionally bruising was much because of my behavior. I always ended up storming out the door with such a comment as, “You clearly married the wrong guy….”

My wife finally expressed during a nonconfrontational time that my “going to the end” during arguments scared and hurt her.

I laid on the couch one eve and questioned my own poor behavior. I did “go to the end” in hurtful ways. But, I didn’t mean to – it just happened. So, why did I do it?

I realized that rather than be in control of my emotions during those types of arguments, I was operating on emotional autopilot. See, when I was growing up, my parents routinely fought and the arguments always ended in one of them leaving, either temporarily, for long periods, or divorce (three marriages, in my mother’s case). It was scary and unsettling to me as a child, but worst of all, it ingrained in me that that’s how arguments work – that is, they go to the end.

I shared this realization with my wife and expressed that while I couldn’t promise perfection, should an argument arise, I would try my best to be aware of my response and not “go to the end.”

Fortunately for both of us and our marriage, I have stopped going to the end. What I’ve learned in this process, as I’ve done at several points throughout my adulthood, is that no matter our scars, we don’t have to live and operate on emotional autopilot. If our behavior is hurting ourselves and others, we can stop, assess, and grow. It’s really hard to do – I know, especially when behaviors, reactions, and emotions are so engrained in us. But, the rewards of having the introspection – and dare I say, courage – to question our own actions can be profoundly life changing.

When we were children, many of us were taught the key to fire safety: stop, drop, and roll. As adults, for our emotional health, maybe we need to establish a similar reaction: stop, assess, and grow.

Getting Better With Words

By Mark E. Smith

In March of 1862, we first saw the phrase, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me, in the Christian Recorder, presented as an old adage. Of course, to most of us, it is a rhyme from our childhood that we sang as a self-affirmation.

However, is it true? I mean, it sounds logical, and we’d like to think we can rise to such self-confidence, but is the saying scientifically true? Can we, as a species, self-evolve to a point where the words of others don’t impact us?

I’ve faced this subject my entire life and have seen merit to both sides of the paradox: We’re innately social creatures, but don’t want to be affected by social scrutiny. As one with a disability, I’ve experienced negative dialogue from others my whole life. What’s more, as a public figure and in working with the public in my career, I’ve experienced the dark sides of dealing with the public. I’ve faced terrible adjectives slung at me. So, how have I coped with all of it?

I’ve believed in dismissing strangers as just that, strangers. If you don’t know me, how can you have a valid opinion about me? Also, two wrongs don’t make a right, so I try to be kind to others even when their words sting. These approaches have worked fairly well, but not flawlessly – for good reason.

Firstly, you and I, as humans, are hardwired as social creatures. It’s ingrained in us to care what others think as a matter of our survival mode. In modern society, the risk factors aren’t as obvious as they were in previous evolutionary periods; we don’t face getting eaten by wild animals when banished from a tribe as we once did. Yet, susceptibility to wanting social approval remains a natural instinct.

Secondly, scientists now know that our physiological connection to others is so strong that words can break us. Researchers discovered that emotional pain and physical pain both trigger the same area of the brain. They performed brain scans of those suffering a romantic breakup, and then subjected them to physical discomfort, finding identical responses in the brain based on emotional and physical pain. Further, research proves that verbal abuse can alter a child’s brain structure, that those who experienced verbal abuse experience the same degree of later-in-life impacts as those who suffered physical abuse.

When we put it all together, words really can hurt us. We can intellectualize all we wish, but to be human is to feel the literal pain of words.

With advancements in technology, it’s vital that we realize the adverse impact words can have. We, as individuals, are in more contact with others than ever in the history of mankind. You can call, email, text, direct message, or video chat loved ones at any time. You can jump on the Internet or social media platforms and say anything to almost anyone. And, it’s dangerous territory. We all know that words can hurt – because we’ve been hurt by them! – but some are still so quick to say the worst to others through the keyboard of a computer or smartphone. It doesn’t matter if it’s family, a friend, a public figure, or a complete stranger – sock it to ‘em with your words online! I’m all too familiar with this troubling mentality of others and guard myself against as much of it as I can. However, what about teens who are at a point where they’re seeking peer approval, but lack the emotional development to cope with the levels of negativity and rejection that come in deluges on social media? Words can devastate lives.

The point is, given the world we live in, we need to get better with words. We can care less what others think, despite our nature, and live rooted in reality, not worrying about what some try to project upon us. Few truly know us and it’s ridiculous to invest in what strangers say about us, good or bad. Similarly, we need to use our own words more carefully. Just because some people fill social media with garbage doesn’t mean we should add trash to the pile. In this age of such prolific communication, let us use our words as a crane that uplifts, not a sledgehammer that crushes.

After all, Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words can also break me.