Sometimes observing the world around us can teach us more about ourselves than we expected.
I've been noticing more and more over the last few years (thanks especially to social media) just how often we humans try to deny the full humanity of those who are different from us.
I see it in how we treat those with different skin colors, different religious beliefs, different genders, different relationship orientations, different cultural backgrounds, different native languages, different economic statuses, different educational backgrounds, different skill sets, and different political beliefs.
We subtly (or not-so-subtly, in some cases) diminish the personhood of these "others" in how we talk about them. We call them names, describe them as "less than" in one way or another, accuse them of being intrinsically evil or degenerate, and attack them in any number of ways that we would be horrified to have someone talk about ourselves or our loved ones.
I've been working hard over the last year or so to learn to better disagree with people (sometimes even passionately) and work to create change without needing to disrespect or dehumanize those I disagree with because I believe that treating others that way does significant harm to them, to myself, and to society at large.
While I am still a work in progress on this, I've come a long way toward noticing when my words (internally as much as externally) are heading into that realm treating another with scorn, as if they are "less than" me in any way, and adjusting my language and attitude accordingly.
The biggest effect of this practice, however, has been one that I never anticipated.
An unexpected effect of reducing scorn
The more I've learned to really pay attention to the presence of scornful, dehumanizing language about those I disagree with, the easier it has become to soften that language (and the attitudes behind it) because I don't like the effect those attitudes have on me.
But the practice has also highlighted (painfully so!) just how often I turn that language of scorn and dehumanization at myself.
I hear even more clearly now when I make myself "less than" in my own mind.
I notice (and cringe) now when I hear myself say that I'm a stupid idiot, that I'm a lazy slug, that I don't deserve something, that I am not good enough, that I'm a loser, that I'm defective, that I suck at being what I "should" be, that I'm a lousy, no-good friend/relative/employee/citizen/spiritual person.
As I've worked to shift the way I talk and think about others with whom I disagree, however, I'm noticing that those same shifts are happening automatically when I catch myself talking to myself in these scornful ways.
And that shift is making a big difference
How we treat our broken places
When my body is bruised and broken, I treat those parts of myself with extra care and tenderness to promote healing and restoration.
And yet, this practice of observing and shifting the way I talk to myself has made me abundantly aware of my tendency to do the complete opposite when it comes to the rest of me.
I've discovered that when I'm dealing with the broken places in my life, those places where I'm already bruised and hurting and tender, are exactly the moments when when I'm most likely to treat myself the worst.
In the very places where I most need comfort and healing, my scornful language is instead the most viscous and nasty. I blame myself for my pain, I call myself names, I beat myself up for not being perfect, I attack my character and abilities. I make myself "less than" in every kind of way in my interior dialogue.
And it does as much good for my healing as abusing physical wounds on my body would do for their healing.
It has taken this gradual shifting away from the scornful inner dialogue to make me really recognize just how much harm that language was doing and how much it slowed my healing (or prevented it altogether).
I've been working hard on some of the rough edges of my life over the last few months, and this kinder, gentler approach has allowed me to address those parts of myself that I'm trying to change for the better without attacking or shaming myself for being there yet.
And the difference this is making is profound! It's proving easier to shift and to heal when I'm treating myself with gentle kindness, and it's much less painful to live with the still unclosed gap between where I am and where I want to be during the process of getting there.
I started on this journey of observing and shifting my language in an attempt to treat those around me with greater kindness. I've wound up reaping an even greater (and completely unexpected) benefit in the way I treat myself, especially in my broken places.
How are you treating your broken places?
How do you speak (or think) about those people you disagree with or who are different from you? Do you ever catch yourself speaking of others with scornful, dehumanizing language (even in your own mind)? How does that tendency benefit you? How does it harm you, them, and society as a whole?
How does the way you speak to yourself correspond (or not) to the way you speak or think about those "others" in your life? What situations are most likely to trigger you to use scornful, dehumanizing language about yourself? How does your language change when dealing with the broken places in your life?
How do you feel when other people talk about you (or your group) with that kind of language? Does it make you more or less likely to create positive change?
How might your use of that kind of language toward yourself be affecting your own ability to heal? What might help you to shift your language toward yourself in a direction of greater kindness to support your healing and growth?
How are you treating your broken places? How might you want to change the way you are treating them? What would it take to start making that shift?
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