“Sticks and stones can break my bones; but, words can’t ever hurt me.” Many parents have probably repeated this mantra to buoy children’s sagging self esteems after they complained about being bullied. But does the mantra really help stop the bullying? Wikipedia informs us that the adage first appeared March 1862 in The Christian Recorder, a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The timing is curious to me. Was the phrase coined to prevent uprisings by enslaved persons by trying to capture the essence of: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34] — using layman’s language. Regardless of the who, what, where or when, words matter — then and now words — can either be used to heal or to hurt. Sticks and stones and words can break our bones and words can also hurt us!
Dr. Mark and Debbie Lasar have written a great book entitled: The Seven Desires of Every Heart. One of the seven desires that pertains to this article in particular is: The Desire to be Heard and Understood. When the seven desires are not met — including the desire to be heard and understood — serious, negative social and psychological consequences develop. Most of us hope to be heard and understood by whom? The order matters: parents and siblings [first and foremost]; other family members and close friends, and then other people. What are the consequences when we feel that we are not heard or understood? Stress and trauma are felt.
“Studies of disaster response around the globe have shown that social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma. Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety. No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love. These are complex and hard-earned capacities.” [ Bessel van der Kolk; The Body Keeps the Score, Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma]
That explains a lot! The current pandemic has cost all of us a tremendous amount of social capital! Too few pandemic ‘experts’ worry about the social consequences of cancelling the importance of being heard and understood today. Some families have refused to see each other for more than a year now! Others disallow grandparents from seeing grandchildren out of fear of transmission. We personally know of families wherein nobody speaks to each other anymore due to disagreements about therapeutics and /or the vaccination protocols. We know of families that were not able to host birthday parties, plan funerals, or weddings in the recent past. People had to die alone. The list of social consequences goes on and on.
Most of us probably took our social support systems for granted until the pandemic hit. Some saw friends morph into different people and join different peer groups. Sometimes these effects felt like we were repeating adolescence all over again — but at much older ages. Individuals are still being canceled after stating opinions or thoughts. Many ‘respected experts’ also no longer feel heard or understood. We’re all kind of in a pseudo self-protection mode that is dangerous and provocative at the same time. People are under threat for losing their jobs if they don’t comply with scientific rules that are more opinion than science — therefore not scientific at all. Squishy rules and orders that are not logical will never help someone feel that he/she is being heard and understood. Why is it wrong to ask questions and receive answers that help us better understand someone else? These conditions simply produce more and more tribalism.
Tribalism is all about: ‘I will go to my corner and you will go to yours.’ Tribalism makes it even less likely that someone will feel heard and understood or will hear and understand someone else. Tribalism encourages separation, apartheid, staying apart, and buoys the inability to understand others. People stay apart and finger point; throw sticks and stones; and pretend their words don’t hurt. The case is made that other people hurt people; but I don’t! “Tribalism is meaner than the baddest man in town, meaner than the old king kong and meaner than the old junkyard dog.” [Bad Bad Leroy Brown]
Therein lies the main problem with the pandemic! But there’s good news if/when we realize the dynamic. The good news is we can change this dynamic if we try. While we may not be able to control the virus, we can control our attitudes. We can stop the bickering. We can start listening and talking. God doesn’t want us to retreat from each other — if He did he wouldn’t have created us with hearts that have very significant needs and desires — at least seven! Neither does He want us to keep ‘gotcha-ing’ friends on social media with new data or facts. That platform CANNOT meet the seven desires of ANY heart — especially the need to be authentically heard and understood. If you haven’t already done so, start thinking about ways to get social again! Work on hearing and understanding; work on being heard and being understood. Form a supportive social group that gets together regularly — no matter what! Get laughing, talking, hugging, dining, and praying together. You’ll feel better already just thinking about this option! God Bless You! God bless your efforts to get needy for others again.