Once when I was a teenager, I made a snide comment about the boy I was dating.
I can’t remember all of the events of the evening, but I do remember my offhand comment of calling him a no-neck monster.
While my friends giggled, my mother looked as if steam was coming out of her ears.
“You’re not going anywhere this weekend,” she declared. “Y’all need to leave,” she told my friends.
“What!” I exclaimed. “That’s not fair.”
She stormed off down the hall, leaving a trail of smoke from her Virginia Slim 120 in her wake. I followed her, demanding a reason.
“I raised you better than that.”
“What are you talking about?”
She turned to glare at me.
“You do not make fun of someone’s appearance. It doesn’t matter what kind of person they are.
“You do not make fun of the way a person looks or about things they have no control over. You were trying to be funny in front of your friends, and all you did was make yourself look bad by making fun of someone’s looks.”
She cut me off.
“I don’t want to hear it. You know better. You’re grounded.”
I emitted some blood curdling sound.
Our town back then didn’t have a whole lot of things for teenagers to do. All I had was to just ride around the Piggly Wiggly parking lot and she was going to take that from me?
“Until I say so.”
How could she do this to me? It was just a funny remark — I wasn’t trying to be mean. Not really.
I just made a joke in front of my friends and here was my mother, embarrassing me and punishing me for my words.
Not only did the Crazy Redhead ground me for about three weeks, she took my phone away too.
I couldn’t drive around the Pig, nor could I spend my free time after school until I went to bed talking on the phone.
“What am I supposed to do?” I wailed.
“Read,” she responded. “And think about your actions.”
Our words matter.
Our words can hurt. Even when the person isn’t there to hear them.
Mama asked me over the course of my sequestration if I would have said those words to the boy’s face.
“No, but –”
“There are no buts; you knew it was wrong.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last week.
My words were not meant to hurt really, because the person wasn’t there to hear them, but to Mama, that made no difference.
I was making fun of someone’s appearance.
I’m not even sure if Granny would attack someone’s looks, and she was meaner than a hornet with a double stinger.
I was doing it behind the person’s back, when they couldn’t stand up for themselves, so it was quite cowardly.
And, I was doing it to get a laugh out of my friends. Maybe a little bit of peer pressure was going on, but I can’t remember.
My friends did laugh, but I didn’t feel good about saying it, which may have made the punishment even harsher. I knew deep down it was wrong but did it anyway.
Of course, that was when I was a teenager. I’m far from perfect and have made comments that weren’t very kind since then, and have often received my mother’s admonition.
“Let her say what she wants to,” Granny would say. “One day, she’s gonna mouth off to the wrong person and learn her lesson.”
Granny probably thought violence was the answer. She did often threaten it enough to believe in its effectiveness.
But, we’ve seen that it really isn’t. Not even when some people may feel like it’s justified.
While it may get a point across, those actions can make you look bad and usually doesn’t end well.
If anything, a physical response often just creates more problems in the long run.
And just because someone said something offensive doesn’t mean it requires a violent retaliation.
Our words can hurt. Our words can provoke.
Our words can also be used to heal situations and bring peace of sorts, when we’re ready for it.
Mama finally lifted my restriction when I said I was sorry for my words.
In her mind, the damage was done, even though the person I said those things about wasn’t there to hear them.
She felt my apology was hollow in a way, as it only came after a punitive phase.
That’s true for a lot of us; we apologize after we receive the consequences.
It’s not that we don’t mean it, but I can understand how she thought it may not have been sincere.
Whether it’s our words or our actions, they both create a ripple effect and at some point, we have to take responsibility for what we say and do.
May our choices and their consequences come from a place of kindness and grace, rather than reaction.
Sudie Crouch is an award-winning humor columnist residing in the North Georgia Mountains among the bears, deer, and possibly Sasquatch. You can connect with her on Facebook at Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Humor, and Deep-Fried Wisdom. Her recently published book, ‘Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Wisdom, and Deep-Fried Humor’ is available in paperback and Kindle download on Amazon.