Last week I led my boys through an experiment on the driveway which involved the smashing of an egg to demonstrate the power of the spoken word. Much like the unrecoverable splat of shell and goo on the driveway, once an insult is thrown, it can never be taken back.
The intended moral of the story? People are fragile and we need to treat each other with care. However, as I thought about it some more, I realised that there was a second part to the lesson. We can’t walk around on egg shells after all. The world isn’t always a kind place. We are all recipients of harsh words at one time or another.
We can’t just crack under the pressure each time it happens.
Alright, no more ‘egg’ puns. It’s getting eggsausting. For this next demonstration, what we needed was a swarm of bugs.
So one evening during the week, I left the outside light on for longer than usual and once I had a good gathering of moths, geckos and assorted bugs, I called the boys to the screen door. From behind the mesh, they could see the bugs, but were not affected by them.
I stepped out bravely into the swarm of bugs and begun by making an analogy out of the situation. Whenever we shine in life (like the light bulb), we are likely to draw some criticism (like the bugs swarming around it). It’s annoying, but it’s just life.
What do most of us do? We step right into it. I invited the boys to step out from behind the safety of the screen door. Now they too were exposed to the bugs. We stood there uncomfortably for a few minutes, noting that there is a clear difference between being observant to criticism, and allowing ourselves to be affected by it.
Sure, it’s impossible to ignore what goes on around us. If people are cruel, unjust or aggressive, it’s going to be something that we notice. But much like the screen door, we have access to emotional filters designed to manage how deeply we allow things to affect us.
In a practical sense, how do we do this? The answer comes from knowing WHY certain things affect us. It’s not necessarily what is said, it’s the stories we tell ourselves about what is said.
A statement is made. It touches a sore spot. We feed the statement with other lies, sifting through the dregs of our fears and insecurities, looking to build a castle around what should have only been a brick.
We are natural storytellers and it’s our tendency to feature ourselves as the dramatic heroes of our personal Shakespearean tragedy. It makes for a more interesting read, right?
But…. what if we are reading the story all wrong? What if the real message behind each insult was “I’m afraid,” or “I feel threatened,” or “I’m hurt”? Would it still affect us in the same way?
I invited the boys to make a choice: would they prefer to stay outside swatting bugs, or did they want to go back inside, behind the screen door? We couldn’t get back inside fast enough. As we shuffled in, I reminded them that whether it was bugs or insults, we always have the protection of a door, depending on where we chose to stand.
We may not be able to change what is said, but we always have a choice about how we interpret it.
It’s our right to shine brightly, our responsibility not to throw eggs and it’s within our power to close the door when others do.