Yesterday someone who does not know me very well, in an effort to “peg” me called me an ‘instigator’.
I admit my first reaction was to “go off” in that way that any self-respecting black Trini grown-up woman can. Instead however, I took the time to calmly correct her mistake. Because see… many things I am – honest, direct, no-nonsense, outspoken, bold; but instigator I am not.
Since then I have been thinking about the fact that so very many of us suffer and succumb to verbal and mental lethargy; that thing that gives us permission to quickly flip through the words we have most probably just heard and regurgitate them. More importantly however, I am struck by the potential damage our lethargy and carelessness can do to someone’s esteem and their reputation.
Words. I enjoy them. And because I do, I have taken the time to fully appreciate, when strung together carefully, how beautifully they can make someone feel, or how they can paint the most explicit of visual pictures. How when flung around carelessly, they can hurt or destroy. Yesterday’s choice of word neither hurt or destroyed… the speaker did not have that much influence over my emotions. But, it was thought-provoking. And, as I continue to think about the encounter, I admit that substituting ‘provocateur’ for ‘instigator’ would have been a much more apt choice.
This post is about esteem. Both of the ‘self’ and the ‘regard’ variety. Because we are a people of selfishness, let me begin with ‘self’. Every self-help book we have ever read speaks about how our having an intact and healthy self-esteem stands us in great stead to conquer the world. (Okay… perhaps just our portion of it). Conversely, if our self-esteem has been in any way compromised, all hell is liable to break loose! An intact sense of who we are, our value and worth affords us the ability to walk through this world with enough confidence to dream and believe we can achieve those dreams. The self-help gurus insist this, an ingrained sense of our worth is infinitely more valuable than how we look.
Okay. Got that?
Let’s now look at ‘esteem’ as it relates to your regard for someone. ‘Esteem’ as it is projected outward, not inward. Simply put – what self-esteem does for you, regard does for the universe. And here is where I would like to linger… most of us possess too much of the former and none, or not nearly enough of the latter. Some have read too many books and have deluded oneself into believing that it is an either-or situation. I either care about me – self, or I care about you – regard.
Why the conversation?
I am always careful in choosing my words. So, when I use just one word, string them together so beautifully they sparkle or craft a sentence filled with negative epithets, trust that each was deliberately chosen. I make little mistakes in my English language usage. To me, this shows my respect for you. The obvious thought we level at any situation marks the difference between regard or not. Off-handed, careless words or actions say more (or, is it less?) about the speaker/doer than they do about the recipient.
This may seem silly to you; you may very well be wondering what I’m going on about, or why. Let’s address this. Wars have been waged because of the ill-use or misuse of words. Murders have words as their offending weapons. Marriages have been dissolved as a result of a careless word here or not enough words there. Careers have ended. Children’s futures derailed.
Shit. Perhaps I am an “instigator”. After all… not settling for mediocrity and expecting people to raise their standards is quite obnoxious of me!