There are times when we say the wrong thing. I’ve been extremely angry and dismayed this week at one person for using language I have great objection to (the event and the culprit will not be divulged, so don’t ask!)
We all do it, and we all live with the consequences of our words. Even I have been known to, on occasion, open my mouth and put my foot in it as they say. Not just a foot – but swallow both feet whole and chew the legs off somewhere below the knee. Usually the comedy of the event is enough to limit damage.
The last time I did this spectacular feat of verbal cannibalism was at a party long ago (yes wine was involved), a housewarming for 2 young chaps who had made the commitment to live together (and are now in a civil partnership).
The evening was swimming along nicely as was my liver, thanks to one young chap in particular (not the host). He and I had been talking for much of the evening, and thanks to his neverending bottle of white, my glass was never more than half empty. Under such circumstances my sense of humour can be sharp and fast, responsive one-liners, but I have never intentionally been offensive or hurtful.
We’d gone to sit out in the garden for a smoke (it was a warm night) and I lifted the crumpled packet of ciggies from my pocket. I offered my smoking companion the contents of the box – he lifted a scruched-up sorry excuse for a cigarette, looked at it, and commented “Ali darling, that is SOOO bent!” we both laughed, and quick as a flash, before my brain could engage “aye, so are you hen! Gonna look at it or light it?” Realisation dawned that these words were coming from my mouth, and mortified, I looked at him intending to apologise for such a crass comment. He was too busy curled on the floor in the pains of extreme laughter. I too crumpled, and we hugged each other, giggling like kids. As we laughed and hugged some more the stunned faces around us, and the “I cant believe she said….” resounded round the garden. No smirks, no collusion, but plenty of shock, and relief when the realisation hit that my comment had been received with the humour it had been made.
Despite the excellent conversations following that moment, with this chap and others, about relationships, God and faith I have looked back on that night and my comment with a mix of guilt and humour – words can cause pain and my words had the potential to be harmful. It was only the grace of their “target” which made it otherwise. It would have been so easy for the others there to collude in, ignore or avoid what had been said – but the shock and the challenge was a tangible entity. And I’m glad.
I’m glad I live in a world where I have friends and colleagues willing to make a challenge even to humour if it steps over the line into prejudice, or appears to do so. I’m extremely relieved that the attitude of “we’re all friends here so it doesn’t matter” is becoming less and less of a reality and prejudiced language is increasingly unacceptable. Increasingly so, but still present. and I long for the day when we not only no longer “say the wrong thing” but carry the internal wranglings of our prejudices. All are equal, all are loved, and no words, no thought process, no prejudice held will ever change that reality. May the reality and realisation of that change our prejudices.