I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

-Maya Angelou

I know I don’t really need to write an entire essay on this.  Ms Angelou has said it all so succinctly.  But recently I’ve had the good fortune to be reminded of the truth of this when an acquaintance shamed me in public.  I said the ‘good fortune’ because whenever I have a life lesson that is presented to me repeatedly, I know it is because I still have some learning to do on that topic!  But I am only human, and at the time of the event it didn’t feel like good fortune.

A group with which I am affiliated was having an ‘email discussion’ to sort some details of our next project.  The discussion was heading in a direction that I was happy about, but was pushing me to participate in a way I was not comfortable with.  When I spoke up and said that I was fine with the project and was happy to let others ‘show the way’ and to sit on the sidelines and cheer them on, I was politely taking a stand for myself and what I was willing to do.  One of the ladies wrote back and copied everyone into the email (as we had all been doing) and asked if I was ‘chicken’?  I’m pretty sure anyone who knows me would not characterize me as being ‘chicken’, so that isn’t so much what ‘pushed my button’.  What pushed me to tears, and then to write this, was the public forum in which it happened.  To shame anyone, even under the guise of ‘wit’ or humour is very unkind, and a bullying tactic used by those who want to be the center of attention, to have power over others, to feed their own Ego.  Whether or not we mean to hurt people with our witty, or witless, comments that refer to foibles or inadequacies, we run a very high risk of making the other person feel badly about themselves.

Fortunately, I know who I am. I am far from perfect, but I don’t need anyone pointing out to me my imperfections, especially in a public way.  I have tried all my life to deflect these kinds of hurtful comments, to ‘toughen up’, grow a thicker skin, etc.  But my desire to remain open and sensitive was greater.  To remain open to the subtleties of life and learn from them, to be rooted in my humanness, that is where I derive inspiration for art and writing and connectedness to those I love.  In my mind, growing a thicker skin gives me less access to my inner self, and I cannot be that person.  But I can, and have developed strategies, to deflect those comments from people who have developed the life habit of belittling others, in order to make themselves feel better.  The irony is, of course, that belittling someone whether in private or public, really sends the message that the bully does not intend.  They are weak and need to step on others to feel strong.  We all have weaknesses but we do not need to step on others to build ourselves up.

Speaking our own truth is essential, but first we have to know what that truth is.  The truth for all of us is, we don’t deserve to be bullied or made to feel less than we are in any way.  We each have the potential to give our own uniqueness to the world and we deserve to be able to have our shot at it without others taking shots at us!

So please, the next time you are thinking of having a laugh at someone else’s expense, know that those words have come from thoughts and those thoughts are energy and energy has the potential to be transformed into something very powerful.  Use your power wisely and thoughtfully.