Your words matter.
I’ve been hearing this phrase, “We’re better than this.” a lot lately and especially after catastrophic events such as murder, mass murder, acts of racism and prejudice, social injustice, even a child who gets a low grade on a test, and a lot more.
Here’s my issue with this phrase and why the words we choose matter.
The reality is, we are NOT better than this because the fact is, destructive behaviors that elicit this sentiment happen all of the time. If we were “better” than this these actions simply would not occur in the first place. But they do and have since the dawn of humankind.
This is a “shaming” statement. Words such as these attempt to shame people into NOT behaving this way. While shame may work in some cases, on the whole, I do not believe shame is a preferred way to inspire a desired behavior. In fact, being shamed feels bad, it hurts, and according to our brain, it’s equivalent to being hit in the face. When we repeatedly shame someone it’s like punching them in the face again and again. You may not know but our brain cannot distinguish between physical pain and emotional pain. It simply knows, “I’m in pain. Do something NOW to ease my pain.”
In this instance, the word “better” is a judgement and presents one person as having “more value” than another. This idea of “being better” than someone else is one of the biggest problems in society today. If humanity would simply stop trying to “one up” each other then nobody would feel so terrible about themselves. The emotional pain of feeling “bad” about yourself then must be addressed which often leads to subsequent destructive behaviors with long term, detrimental effects.
I believe the “desire to be better” is mostly rooted in the need to feel valued because those who are valued are worthy of love. Love IS a basic human need just like food, water, and sleep. When we do not feel loved it hurts and once again we’re in a cycle of emotional pain which we are compelled to address however we can. In the absence of connecting authentically we often turn to destructive behaviors. One person is so driven to be “better” than another to feel valuable, most likely, because they never truly felt valued early in life. If every person truly felt valuable for who they are (rather than what they do such as go potty in the toilet, get an “A” on a test, earn a certain salary, etc.) then they wouldn’t feel the emotional pain of NOT feeling loved.
“We’re better than this.” is not a true statement.
“We’re better than this.” attempts to shame those who hurt others when the reason they hurt others is because they’ve been hurt themselves and likely for a very long time.
“We’re better than this.” implies one person has more value than another. All humans are valuable. When we claim some people are more valuable than others, we inflict emotional pain on those others. Again, it’s the pain that person has already experienced that most likely drove their destructive behavior in the first place. Now, we’re adding insult to injury. Isn’t this the root of racism… where one group of humans takes a position of “being better” than another group of humans?
I understand the pain we feel when we witness one person hurting another. But statements like “We’re better than this.” is just us attempting to not admit our own poor behaviors and then purposely trying to hurt those who hurt us and made us feel bad. And that’s exactly why they’re doing the hurting in the first place. How are we helping the situation?
This is the power of words.
While sticks and stones may break your bones (which can heal in about 3 weeks) the words we use can hurt us emotionally far worse and for a lot longer (sometimes a lifetime).
Emotional pain is just as real as physical pain. Until we accept this fact humanity will continue to self-destruct with their behaviors in an attempt to ease their [emotional] pain.
Change is easy when it truly matters to you.
How might you change the words you use in order to love and not hurt others?