I was in sixth grade when I realized the power of words for the first time.
For whatever reason, I decided to write a letter – a very mean one – to someone who was a friend of mine, a friend who had done nothing wrong. To this day I have no idea why I wrote it, but I have never forgotten the lesson learned. That girl and I were never friends again and because we had hung out in the same group of friends, it made my life so awkward. I still feel shame when I think back to how I made that girl cry.
It happened again in high school with my best friend. I decided that I didn’t want to be friends anymore (eye roll) and wrote a letter. Sigh. My parents kept telling me to stop writing letters and that was the last time, THANKFULLY. She and I are still friends to this day (31 years and counting) and our friendship is stronger because of it, I think.
I can’t go back to sixth grade or high school (THANKFULLY) but I’ve tried to be very careful with my words ever since. While I certainly still make mistakes, I do what I can to avoid having difficult conversations via text/email because of the inability to read tone. I choose my words carefully and use abundant emojis to convey my emotions.
Everyone has a lens through which they perceive and process life, and we all have our own “settings” and filters through which we process information; because of that, I also do everything I can to assume the best when others write to me and never assume that they are being rude, mean, or angry. I read the tone as being friendly unless proven otherwise. I don’t know what may be behind the words, I don’t know what mood they are in or what is happening in their life, so I choose to believe they are being kind.
This week I was reminded that I can only control my words and my responses. I was reminded that, as well-meaning and good as I may think my words are, they are up for interpretation by the receiver and the result may be less than ideal.
I have, yet again, found myself in a situation where I may be losing a friend because of words (but NOT with a mean letter like sixth grade or high school!) even though that is the complete opposite of what I want. And it has been devastating. Looking back, I can see why this person took what I said the way that they did, and I can also see how this could have been avoided entirely had I done it in person. It was just easier to text, so I did. And now we’re in a mess.
I don’t write this for pity (I made the mistake). I don’t write this for gossip (hence the lack of details). I write this to encourage you to stop having difficult conversations with written words. Pick up the phone. Get together. FaceTime. Hear the person’s tone. Assume the best. Be willing to accept feedback and constructive criticism from those who love you. Offer abundant grace to your imperfect friend/family member. Don’t allow friendships to be destroyed because of misunderstandings that could have been avoided.
I clearly still need to learn this lesson. Maybe this is why the Bible is filled with verses about using your words wisely.
I’m still praying that things will resolve and that we can grow stronger because of this conflict. But, I also know that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect humans and that may not be the reality. So, while I am grieving this apparent loss, I’m also renewing my determination to be careful with my words and to never have discussions via writing when they can be better resolved in person.
Friendships are too rare and too valuable to be lost over misunderstandings. Be wise with your words.