Monday, October 04, 2010

Two Stupid Comments I Should Have Rephrased

Two Stupid Comments I should have Rephrased

Once upon a time way too close to the present, I was sitting at a table with an over-tired 3 year old.  We were eating a snack after visiting the museum and the park that day.  This little boy was all wound up, and began pretending to bite his finger.  And then he actually bit it.  My attempt at stifling and disguising laughter at his reckless accident failed, and in the middle of please-pity-me-crying (no blood, no marks, no permanent damage), the child screamed his demand that I stop laughing.  I mastered myself.  He didn’t.  While still in the throes of his crying, he put his other finger in his mouth and pretended to bite it. 

In disbelief, I gave a warning.  “You’re stupid,” I said.  Three year olds, they don’t like that very much.  Especially not when their parents taught them that “stupid” is a bad word.  (Really, parents?  Wouldn’t it be better to teach your kids the spirit of respect instead of just limiting their vocabulary?)  He screamed again.  And I realized that I should not have said that.  I apologized, and went to instruct the foolish boy against repeating the same behavior that caused him pain just a moment before. 

Of course the word “stupid” exists for just such a lack of forethought, applies perfectly to the decision to continue the game.  With the information that their household considers it a bad word, I know that the child received no instruction from my diagnosis.  I don’t expect “foolish” would have communicated any more.  Which leaves me with the common option of “silly,” a dangerous thing to say.  A child is silly when he makes a face AND silly when he bites his own finger?  Pretending to bite a finger might be silly, but risking a real bite is not. 

Even aside from my word choice, I criticize the grammar of my sentence.  To be more accurate, the behavior was stupid.  A pattern of neglecting known consequences could justify labeling a person “stupid.”  A one time event doesn’t. 

Fresh off that experience, I went to a friend’s house for a Bible study.  Afterwards, I sought my friend to give her a compliment – a retraction of an earlier criticism.  I believe my words went something like, “You know how I have told you that everyone is like you, not knowing some things – but that we just do a better job of covering it up?  I think if I were in your family, I would look stupid, too.”  Her mom was right there, and hadn’t heard the earlier conversations.  And given the subject of my compliment, more planning for how to word my admission would have made a lot of sense. 

She and her mom looked confused and questioned me whether they were being insulted.  I spent the next five minutes trying to explain what I meant.  The truth is, people quite often say things and I don’t know what they’re talking about, or I don’t know if they’re teasing.  A little quiet observation usually enables me to discern the truth, and in the mean time I pretend to be in the know.  My friend makes the point that a person learns more by admitting their ignorance and asking.  I think there should be balance.  But the other day I was reflecting on the way her brothers treat people, how they push a matter and don’t let anyone pretend to know something they don’t – they tempt a person to doubt what they do know, even.  And I concluded that if I had grown up with that experience, I would also have given up long ago.  My ignorance would always be exposed, just like hers tends to be. 

Anyway, I’m starting to see the value in being more like her: more open, more humble.  I understand at the very least that I could be a better communicator and better friend if I took harsh words like “stupid” out of conversational use lest I give the wrong impression again.  Thank God for patient and forgiving friends!

To God be all glory.

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