She walked up to me while everyone else was arranging flowers for the memorial service and said, “I think I’ll just stand here next to you until someone tells me what to do.”
I said, “That’s exactly what I’m doing. Waiting for orders.” She looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her. “I’m so sorry, I’m meeting a lot of Jenn’s friends today. Have we met before?”
She gave me side-eye, like she was trying to figure out if I was joking or not. “Umm, it’s me, Chelsea. We’re staying at the same Airbnb?”
Friend, I wanted the earth to swallow me up. How embarrassing.
So, for the next couple of hours, every time I saw Chelsea, she would reach her hand out and introduce herself once again. It was her way of saying, “I get it. We all mess up, but it’s still funny.”
Later on that day, I was trying to tell someone that I had “stuck around” for a phone call, but it came out as “I stack around.” A man across the table from me said, “I thought you were a professional writer? Well, I guess it’s a good thing you’re a writer and not a professional speaker.”
I was stunned into silence because I am, in fact, a professional speaker.
We all get teased, so we all know that this sort of communication can make us feel either accepted or rejected.
There’s the “included” tease. It’s the kind of teasing that pulls you in. The “we all do it” kind of tease that is often accompanied by our own story of how we messed up. It’s okay if someone is laughing at you, because they are laughing at themselves. We are all laughing together.
Then there is another kind of teasing. The kind used to push down the target in some way. The kind where everyone who hears it — not just the object of the teasing — feels uncomfortable.
The man’s comment to me was definitely of the rejection variety. But I didn’t say anything this time because we were at an event honoring a friend who had recently passed, and I didn’t want to do anything to take away from the purpose of our gathering together.
But when I’ve found myself in similar circumstances, I now know what to do when someone else is trying to bully me with words:
Ask them to explain.
A simple “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.” goes a long way when asking someone to explain their actions. It’s a great way to assume that someone misspoke and to give them another chance to explain why they said what they did.
Sometimes people double down. “It’s just a joke.” (This is called gaslighting and it helps me recognize the truth — someone is trying to cover up for what they know they did wrong.)
So the next step in my strategy is to say, “I’m sorry, I’m missing why that is funny.” Oftentimes people think putting you down is funny, but it’s only funny in their eyes. When asked to explain, they realize that it’s only funny to them, and it’s only funny when they are hurting someone else. (It is my personal experience that it’s best to stay away from those types of people as much as possible.)
I have been careless with my words more times than I would like to confess. I’ve said something scathing to get a laugh, or hurtful because I was feeling insecure.
But here is what I know: We can train our tongue.
God’s Word has a lot to say about the choices we are making with the words we use, but this verse is very direct:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
We can train our tongue to apologize quickly. I still slip up, but when I apologize in the moment, it’s amazing how many people will accept that apology gracefully and without reservation.
We can train our tongue to hold back. As I’m getting a little older, I’m taking a beat (or two) to think about what I’m saying before I say it. Most of the time, I realize that what I’m about to say isn’t hurtful. I’m now much more concerned about someone else’s feelings than getting the upper hand.
We can train our tongue to speak words of encouragement. It feels great to be funny in the moment, but specific encouragement will be remembered for years to come.
Today is the day to make the change. If you’ve used words that could have hurt, it’s not too late to ask for forgiveness.
And if you’ve been wounded by teasing, know that you are not “too sensitive.” Protect your peace. Part of peace is knowing what words to let linger around you and which to reject. My friend, you are far too loved and valued by God to let any unkind words linger in your presence.