As a girl growing up in the South, I always heard the expression, “Watch what comes out of your mouth.”
By the time I was a pre-teen, though, it was pretty clear I had a problem with that. I said things that sometimes made people uncomfortable.
I’m not talking about insults or deliberately picking fights—that was never in my nature—however, I had, as my mother put it, a real “flaw” of saying things best left unsaid.
For instance, when I was in middle school and my then-best friend suddenly stopped talking to me and spending time with me to hang out with other people, I didn’t just “let it slide” like my mother advised. In fact, when we happened to run into each other at a social event that our respective parents were attending, I asked her point-blank if she no longer liked me. While she verbally denied it, it was pretty clear from her body language that was the case.
Despite feeling somewhat vindicated that at least I had my answer, my mother was horrified I had been so confrontational. “You’ll regret this some day,” she said on the drive home.
But the truth was, I did not. To this day I don’t.
While middle school adolescence was one thing, adulthood was different. Like many, I was conditioned to believe that conflict and confrontation were to be avoided at all costs. Saying that everything was “fine” even when it wasn’t was the norm. Venting to friends and, once social media came into existence, even total strangers was okay, but at no point was one ever expected to actually confront the individual who wronged them—not unless it something major.
For years I tried to follow this model, but I found I could not. Not only did it go against my nature, but I also noticed that when something was on my mind and irritating me, the only real solution was to speak up and make it clear to the person or persons causing it.
I learned something amazing from this: In most cases, the conflict could be resolved. However, even when it could not, it was liberating to have my truth out there and heard even if it did not lead to any sort of formal resolution.
I also learned that most people—even those we perceive as powerful, with the ability to destroy us—really aren’t, and wouldn’t chose to “destroy” us even if they could.
Granted, there is a right and a wrong way to confront someone. It goes without saying that hurling personal attacks or profanity at someone usually isn’t the right way, but neither holding back to the point that the message is lost out of fear of “offending.”
As I look back on the nearly 40 years I have been alive, I can honestly say I have more regrets over the things I did not say than those that I did, because even when I said things that were wrong or hurtful, I had the opportunity later to apologize for them and acknowledge I was wrong.
On the other hand, if we never say something, we never get the chance to have our voice heard.
Therefore, I have decided for the next (hopefully) 40-plus years of my life, I am going to continue to speak out. It may not make me a “lady” by the standards I grew up with, but some things are decidedly more important. At least, I think so.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Gustavo Devito/Flickr