“What’s wrong with your son?” I turned from browsing bags of salad to see an older gentleman staring at the helmet on the head of my baby boy in the shopping cart. I was unprepared for my reaction to his question. My heart started to pound, my hands felt sweaty, and my face was getting hot. What did he mean what’s “wrong” with him?
I had so many things I wanted to say! I had to fight the urge to not go all “Mama Gump” on him and shout “What’s the matter, you’ve never seen a little boy with a helmet on his head before?” Instead, I forced a smile and calmly explained that my son wears a helmet because he has a flat spot on his head (plagiocephaly) and the helmet will correct the shape of his skull. He smiled, thanked me for explaining, waved at my son, then went about his shopping.
But I was still mad. As I was driving home, I had an article all written up in my head. “Things NOT to Say to the Mother of a Baby Wearing a Helmet: Another Public Service Announcement From an Offended Mother.” I was so frustrated that he phrased his question that way!
Who is responsible for your reaction to the situation? The still, small voice asked a question that got me thinking. We are easily offended these days, aren’t we? Obviously, myself included. In an effort to increase sensitivity, we’ve created these lists of “things not to say” and “terms not to use.” Please don’t misunderstand my point. It’s important to educate people on how to be respectful with their words. But we can’t control what other people say. Instead, we should focus on what we can control.
I can only control myself. I can also raise my family so that they understand both the power of words and how to react to them appropriately. If my son was old enough to understand the situation, what would I want him to learn from it? What truths do I want to teach him about words?
- Give people the benefit of the doubt. This man did not intend to make me upset. He was just curious. The issue was the way that I interpreted his question. Could he have phrased his question differently? Yes, but I shouldn’t be offended every time someone says something I don’t like. Rudeness is not the same as bullying. Political incorrectness or lack of tact does not necessarily indicate ill intent. Sometimes people don’t mean to upset us. So, before you react, assess the situation by…
- Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19-20). Many situations get blown out of proportion because we don’t grasp this. Many conflicts could be diffused if we choose to listen first, think about what we say before we speak (or don’t speak at all) and keep our cool.
- You are not responsible for what other people say or do but you are responsible for your reaction. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) It’s tempting to retaliate when someone says something that hurts us, but this only makes the situation worse.
- Words matter. Your words can bring life and encouragement or pain and suffering (Proverbs 18:21). Always choose words that build people up! (Ephesians 4:29)
- You need to forgive as you have been forgiven (Colossians 3:13). At some point, you will mess up. You’ll say the wrong thing, too. Even if you didn’t mean it. So when someone does it to you, forgive.
- You were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). He determines your value, not the world. You can choose to take hurtful words to heart or you can choose to trust the truth. Don’t let other people’s words define who you are or how you behave. Remember who you are in Christ.
- Your mama says there isn’t anything “wrong” with you.