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  • Writer's pictureMaria

Reflecting on the importance of words on World Kindness Day

I recently came across this video on youtube, and thought that it was incredibly powerful.

Throughout the years I've worked with people, I've heard a lot about the impact of words. The impact of being told you are not enough, that you are stupid, unwanted or inferior. These words may come from family, peers, strangers, teachers, colleagues or professionals..people we were supposed to be able to trust.

On this video, we see people reflecting back to all different points of their lives. I'm sure that many times, we don't think when we speak. We say things we don't mean when we are angry or hurt. As parents, we may make passing comments to our kids..and our kids may grow up to internalize those things.

It just takes one time of hearing "you're fat," to develop low self esteem, obsessive calorie counting or an eating disorder. It takes once to hear "you deserved it" or "what were you wearing?" to be overcome with shame and guilt. It takes just once to hear "you're too broken" before you start doubting your own value and accepting less for yourself.

In one instance in the video, a woman voices that she was called a racial slur by a child, and that child's father did not correct him or apologize to her. Even our silence and lack of words can impact someone so significantly years later.

In another instance, a woman reported that her mom showed no empathy after she was injured on a boat trip. Her mom voiced her anger for being inconvenienced by her child's injury. The scar of her mother's anger and lack of empathy will never leave this woman.

What was the most hurtful thing someone ever said to you?

Depending on the environment we grew up in, we may be able to think of a lot of different things.

I challenge you to reflect on your own interactions. How do you speak to strangers, peers, or your family? How do you speak to a homeless person? How do you speak to someone who's political views differ from your own? How do you speak to the store clerk, the maintenance people or the waitress? How do you speak to people who do not understand your language, or to people who's culture and traditions you do not understand?

Do you ever scream at your kids and cuss at them? Do your call your teenager names? Do you say hello to a colleague in the elevator, but ignore the maintenance person?

For me, I have been called names. I have been called every variation of a cuss word. I have been told as a child that I should have never been born and I ruined everything. I have been called fat, ugly and stupid. I have been told by a college counselor at a community college that I was not "smart enough" for a Dietician program. I was told that no one would ever love me. As a mental health professional, I can look back at these interactions and think about reasons why people would say these things. I can rationalize that they likely do not even making these comments. But I am here, years later, and I still remember.

During my time working as a janitor, I was frequently ignored. Everyone said hello to the people around me. I would smile at them - and they would turn their heads away. I was spoken down to. Not only by adults, but by children, too. Now when people see me as a "nurse practitioner," I am somehow a different person who has earned an unspoken respect.

Receiving kindness and dignity is a human right. There is no prime age, status, profession, amount of education, amount of money you make, things you own, whatever...that could make you MORE worthy of kindness and dignity.

We are all human. Regardless of age, borders, language, life experience, status or jobs. We are human. And we all have the right to receive kindness.

Now, what was the kindest thing anyone has ever said to you?

I remember when I volunteered at a local shelter, I was talking to a group of individuals about skincare. They remarked that although they live on the streets, they make sure to keep their skin moisturized, and they chuckled at my ashy legs. The man dug into his suitcase, and handed me a bar of soap. He said, "this stuff is awesome, you need to take this, it really will help you have great skin."

I tried to say no and hand it back. He insisted and I accepted. I keep that bar of soap in my car to remind myself that people who have absolutely nothing still give. That no matter how hard life has been on these people and despite obvious differences in our reasons for being at that shelter, they still found kindness and offered me what they did have.

I hope as times are changing, we can start reflecting on how we treat others.. our words, our choice to speak, or even our choice to be silent DO impact other people. Just as they have impacted us.

As you reflect on the words that have hurt you the most, also think about the actions and words that have meant the most to you. The words that lifted you.

While World Kindness Day shines a light on this topic, providing others with kindness through words and actions is something we need to do every day.

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