On Truly Changing Your Ways

On my old blog1One of the old blogs. I’ve had 4 now, with this one being the second longest running of them., I used to make these attempts at really deep posts as my first post for the new year. I’ve only done one such post to start a year on this blog — mostly because I try to do those posts a little more frequently than once a year now. That said, there’s a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while now that I felt would be perfect for a start of the year introspection2Shout out to said old blog. post.

When I was younger, I was not a good person. While I tried to do what was right, or at least what I perceived to be right, my instincts as to what was right and what was wrong weren’t particularly well-tuned. One particularly vivid example of this comes from relatively early childhood. From the time when I was in third grade through fifth grade3Roughly ages 9-11., I went to a babysitter before school. My brother and I would get dropped off by my dad at around 530 in the morning, then stay at the babysitter’s until around 745, when we’d start our walk to school. At the peak during the three years I went to the babysitter’s, there eleven kids there each morning, all but one between the ages of 7 and 13. The babysitter wasn’t good at managing our behavior in retrospect, though that doesn’t excuse some of what happened at her house.

One of the kids being babysat at that house was a boy named Ross4As is almost always the case with personal stories, names have been changed to protect the innocent.. Ross had a fairly severe developmental disorder, though I couldn’t tell you what it was. Because of this, Ross was one of the most common targets of bullying at the babysitter’s. Ten-year-old me was a fan of this, because it meant that I wasn’t the kid being bullied anymore, as I had been for the first year I went to the babysitter.

It was a nearly daily occurrence that someone called Ross names or tried to anger him. The babysitter’s solution to fixing problems to was to spank whichever kid she saw causing the “problem” that happened to be occurring. Since Ross couldn’t talk well, this meant that Ross regularly found himself getting spanked. This happened in spite of the fact that Ross was bigger than most anyone at the babysitter’s. There were times where Ross got in a fight with another one of the kids and kicked the crap out of them, not just because he was bigger and stronger than them, but also because he didn’t know when to stop. A few times, the babysitter pulled Ross off of one of the kids during a fight, only for him to keep right on swinging his fists and biting in the air.

I never got into any sort of physical altercation with Ross. I think ten-year-old me knew full well that Ross would have kicked the shit out of me had I done anything violent towards him. But I was one of the people who called him names. I didn’t treat Ross with respect. If anything, I was so worried about making sure I wasn’t the one being bullied any longer that I encouraged those who had bullied me to act poorly toward Ross. Self-preservation was my goal. It was also the wrong thing to do.

I haven’t seen Ross in over twelve years. Though he was the same age as me, he didn’t graduate at the same time as my graduating class5If memory serves, my school’s MRDD program (as they called it) schooled those with developmental disabilities until age 21.. I tried my best to act nice towards him on the rare occasion I did see him in high school, however such interactions were few and far between. I can say for certain that I never made amends for the way I, or anyone else, treated him at the babysitter’s.

In the first paragraph of this post, I mentioned that there’s an idea that’s been going around in my head for a while now that I wanted to talk about. That idea is, at its core, nothing more than a simple question.

How do you make amends for past mistakes when you can’t directly make things better for the person you wronged?

I don’t think there’s a simple answer to this question. While there are certainly no perfect people in this world, there’s also a lot of people who have been really shitty people at some point in their past. Cracked did a pretty good post about people who have made mistakes in the past and have done their best to make amends for those mistakes. The one that sticks out to me from that post is #7 — Eddie Murphy’s change from performing an anti-gay, AIDS panic-filled comedy routine in the 1980s to donating a lot of time and money to AIDS research (amongst other charities).

While I don’t believe that donating money to charity makes past wrongs right, I do believe it is a step to help show change toward becoming a better person who has learned from their mistakes6Especially if the charity in question does work to help prevent wrongs, raise awareness for something you were ignorant about, or something along those lines.. Equally, if not more, important than giving money to charity is to make changes to our actions so as not to repeat the same mistakes we’ve made in the past. If you’re insensitive with your words, learn to speak with more thought and care in your words. If you’ve treated someone with disrespect, make sure that future similar interactions (be that with the same person or not) are ones that convey respect and empathy.

I realize I’m being a bit vague in my wording in that last paragraph. It’s because there’s so many mistakes that we make as people who addressing every single one in a blog post would turn this post into an 80,000 word epic. But I do think it’s possible to improve ourselves and chance ourselves so we don’t repeat the same mistakes we’ve made in our past. I know it’s something I try to do regularly — be that atoning for mistakes I’ve shared on this blog or those I have not. I want to continue to be a better person. I think we all do. And the best way to do that is not to ignore the mistakes we’ve made, but to use them to fuel us to improve ourselves. This is doubly true if there’s no way to atone for our mistake directly to the person who felt the results of our mistakes.

Phrasing…

The other day, a random person at Chipotle reminded me of one of the best movie quotes of all time.

While the lady at Chipotle wasn’t quoting The Princess Bride, her anger and vitriol did manage to get her kicked out of the restaurant. I didn’t know it was possible to get kicked out of a Chipotle. Getting kicked out of a Chipotle for being angry is like getting kicked out of a K-Mart for being dressed too nicely, in that it’s nearly impossible because no one in their right mind does it. Just like K-Mart has security who will turn you away if your sweatpants do not feature at least two sweat stains, the smell of the food at Chipotle could pacify nearly any human being((This post is not sponsored by Chipotle in any way…it’s just really delicious and I love it.)).

Long story short, this lady came into a Chipotle with a rather lengthy line during a busy time of the day. She ordered seven burrito bowls((Common courtesy would dictate that such a large order be made online, but what do I know?)), all of which had special instructions. As the first of the bowls went down the line, someone made a mistake, which they caught before they were done. Said employees trashed the bowl and started over, but not before our angry lady saw and immediately started screaming for a manager. Literally screaming. Her insults ranged from mild insults about the intelligence of the staff, to abusive makes about the race of the largely African-American and Hispanic staff. Needless to say, she was kicked out, but not before getting her food for free.

As the lady exited the restaurant, people in line began cracking jokes about her…rather loudly at that. It was at that point when she shouted back a sentence that made me wonder why she even bothered to open her mouth.

“I hope all of you Communists enjoy making this Socialist company richer with your government money!” — Some idiot at Chipotle

I’m going to ignore the absurdity of her statement and its numerous inaccuracies for the majority of this post. I have no desire to get into a political discussion today, especially one that may well attract individuals who believe that the above quote makes sense((It doesn’t.)). The purpose to this post is to address the importance of carefully choosing the words we say, so as to have a greater impact on those we’re speaking to, not to mention to avoid sounding like an uneducated person.

In recent months, I’ve had to do quite a bit of reading and watching trainings as a result of my job. One of the individuals I’ve most enjoyed is Julian Treasure, a public speaking and sound expert. One of Treasure’s videos talks about the importance of vocabulary in communication, in particular focusing on the narrowing of the modern vocabulary to the point where words are beginning to lose their meaning.

Take the word awesome, for example. In its literal definition, when something is so powerful or amazing that it inspires reverence, respect, wonder and dread. That’s an absurdly complex definition that should be used for things capable of destroying cities at minimum. In a colloquial sense, however, the word awesome is rarely used for such a circumstance, while it is more commonly used as an expression the describe how delicious your ramen is((to be fair, if it’s Maruchan’s picante chicken ramen, you’re not really that far off in your description)).

I’m certainly guilty of overusing some words. Most commonly, I’ll do it either to fit into the conversation I’m part of, or because I don’t know better words to replace them with. While I generally consider myself to be a very knowledgeable speaker with a diverse vocabulary, I have my own shortcomings in my vocabulary. When those moments arise, I find myself struggling to use exactly the word I need to get exactly the point I want to make across. That harms my point, that harms my credibility, and it can also harm the emotions of the person I’m speaking to.

While I do work regularly to expand my vocabulary, merely knowing big words does not mean that one knows how to use them properly. That comes with practice, repetition, and research. Those actions are how we can improve ourselves in any endeavor, not just in speaking. As we work to save what may well be a dying language from those who would look to oversimplify it, I encourage you to pause — if only for a moment — before you speak to consider the words you say. Will the words that you speak say exactly what you want when heard by another person? If so, that’s fantastic. If not, perhaps seek out a new way to state the same thing. You’ll find your conversations are more impactful, not to mention more well-received.