So go the lyrics to one of my favorite (anti-)love songs. An international hit written by Anne Loree, it is featured on Canadian singer-song-writer Jann Arden’s 1994 album Living Under June.
My friend Connie and I were fortunate to be able to hear this song in concert at Acadia University about twenty years ago. Arden was performing on a hot summer night in University Hall on her album tour. I don’t know if Connie recalls this or not, but Arden was a little miffed that instead of buying tickets to her show, a number of people were sitting on the green outside the venue listening to the show, and had an exchange with them from the stage.
Both Arden and this impromptu audience were insensitive – Arden because she parlayed with non-paying guests instead of focusing on her audience, and those onlookers because they were taking advantage of the open windows on a sultry evening to get a free show.
I was thinking about these events lately when I found my Jann Arden songbook. (For those who have not heard the Living Under June album, I strongly suggest you do – it remains one of my favorites of all time.)
I’ve made insensitive comments that cause me to now wonder if people thought I should be the one giving advice about how to be insensitive, as the song describes. Such as a comment I made to my grandmother after she had to have a colostomy bag that I regret to this day. Or as teenager telling a former acquaintance that I thought her child was special needs. Open mouth; insert foot.
And thinking about the insensitivity described in the song and in some comments I have said made me ponder some of the insensitive things that have been said to me.
“It’s great to see you. I just wish there was less of you to see.”
“You shouldn’t even try this yoga pose – it’s only for skinny people.”
“I never would have thought someone like you would know that.”
“I like your shirt but it would look better on someone else.”
“Your singing might sound okay if you took some lessons.”
Or my personal favorite – or perhaps I should say least favourite?: While being prepared for a second surgery the past summer just one week after having a hysterectomy that was devastating because it meant not only that I had cancer but also ended twenty-five years of trying to conceive and carry another child to term, having the pre-op nurse ask, “Are you pregnant?”
Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me is one of the worst lies we tell ourselves. Words hurt. They can wound us to our very soul without the person who is saying them even knowing the impact they have.
People who made those insensitive comments about my weight to me did not know that no diet, weight loss program, exercise regime, or doctor have been able to help me lose weight. For example, when I lived in Ontario I strictly followed a medical weight loss program and exercise program, and gained forty-five pounds in three weeks. When I tried Jenny Craig, all of their consultants were absolutely dumbfounded that I kept gaining weight – they had never seen anything like it. Following one doctor’s advice I kept eating less and less. The last time I saw him he told me that the reason I wasn’t losing weight was because I was eating too much. I said, “I don’t know how much less you want me to eat since all I had yesterday was half a donut hole and a cup of unsweetened herbal tea.” Just last year another doctor and dietitian in Pennsylvania told me I was not eating enough – and following their advice about diet and exercise I gained fifteen pounds in nine days.
My point is this: We never know what struggles people are having. We never know what they have or have not tried to correct their flaws, or what we perceive to be their flaws. Heavenly Father’s plan for us is that we ‘might have joy‘, but that joy is easier to find if we concentrate on being sensitive to the feelings and needs of other’s instead of making their lives harder through insensitive comments. We should be building people up instead of tearing them down. We should be helping them to find joy instead of adding to their misery. We should be their biggest champions instead of one of their (likely) many detractors.
But it goes beyond the old adage”If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That’s a great start. But if we never say anything nice to others because all we have to say to them is insensitive, they never receive encouragement.
The musical group Simple Plan put it this way:
No, you don’t know what it’s like
When nothing feels all right
You don’t know what it’s like
To be like me
To be hurt
To feel lost
To be left out in the dark
To be kicked when you’re down
To feel like you’ve been pushed around
To be on the edge of breaking down
And no one’s there to save you
No, you don’t know what it’s like
Welcome to my life
No one should feel this way. Instead, let us follow President Ezra Taft Benson’s advice, when he tells us that a person who is kind is sympathetic and gentle with others, is considerate of others’ feelings, is courteous in his or her behavior, and has a helpful nature: “Kindness pardons others’ weaknesses and faults. Kindness is extended to all—to the aged and the young, to animals, to those low of station as well as the high” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 47).
Let kindness and sensitivity be our goal to helping ourselves and others find the joy that Heavenly Father has promised we might have.