I learned something important today, or maybe I should say that something I already was aware of was reinforced today, and it’s this: Anytime you open your mouth, literally or metaphorically, your words always reflect on someone else, and usually a lot of someone elses. Just for the sake of argument, let’s use me as a test case. Anytime I say anything to anyone, although I may be saying it only as an individual, others may hear those words as a part of something larger. To that person, I may be speaking as:
- a wife
- a daughter
- a sister
- a sister-in-law
- a pet parent
- a teacher
- a student
- a geek
- a bibliophile
- a woman
- or any number of groups that I am or have been involved with, either formally or informally
- OR any one of the above, but more specifically, as in “[my husband]’s wife” or “[my brother]’s sister” rather than just “a wife” or “a sister” in general
I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s incredibly sobering to me, that the words I toss off in anger or frustration may be used, whether consciously or unconsciously, to judge the people I love and care about, or people whose ideas I agree with. I don’t like the idea that someone may judge my amazing husband in a negative light because I sometimes lose my temper. I like even less the idea that someone might be judging my parents by this same rubric.
At the same time, I am being judged in this exact same way through the words and actions of others. As I’m constantly reminding my endlessly-patient husband, if he goes out in public in dirty, stained clothing, the people he meets may choose to judge me as his wife, rather than him as an individual, and I don’t like that either.
Of course, there’s a positive side to this too. When I made the Dean’s List last semester, or the President’s List the semester before, that action also reflected positively on me, my husband, my parents, and so on. When someone tells my husband that he looks great, some of that reflects onto me as well (especially if I chose the outfit).
So now that I’ve had a chance to revisit this, what do I do with/about it? I doubt I will stop being opinionated, and I also doubt that I will stop expressing those opinions. I have also learned that everyone has the right to their own opinions, and that silence can easily be mistaken for tacit approval, and that doesn’t stop being important either. I think the main thing is that I will continue to do my very best to express my opinions respectfully and politely, since I think that is the most positive reflection I can offer to everyone I am connected with.