Spirit Matters: How does your behavior bless or curse?

Jerrilyn Zavada Novak

It is certainly one of the least enjoyable aspects of life.

We all know the sound of harshness in another’s voice, especially when directed toward us, or words spoken in anger and frustration that seem designed to send daggers to our heart.

Even worse, sometimes we bear the brunt of silence, marked by a decidedly angry atmosphere and someone’s passive-aggressive way of handling their stressors.

This has happened to all of us through many people. And we have inflicted the same damage on others.

Again and again.

Friends, family members, co-workers, classmates, the gas station attendant, the crossing guard, the random driver who cut us off in traffic.

No one is immune to or from this behavior.

We aren’t always aware of how our words – or lack of them – affect those around us.

But I can guarantee we are aware of the effect when we are the ones who hear it or feel it.

It undoubtedly hurts the most when someone we love behaves this way toward us.

There are certainly different levels of this kind of behavior.

There is the kind that happens when someone has had a bad day or is undergoing an intense period of stress and, perhaps unintentionally, lashes out at us.

These kinds of interactions are sometimes unavoidable. But they don’t have to be, and they shouldn’t be the norm.

We all have the ability to change our behavior – if we are willing.

As those who exhibit this behavior are consistently unaware of it – or are aware of it but don’t care about the effect it has on others – it can advance to serious physical and mental abuse.

One thing I have learned is that when this kind of behavior is directed at us, it is usually not really about us personally. It has everything to do with what is going on inside the other and to what degree they have learned to manage their own feelings and behavior in a healthy manner.

Recognizing this can help mitigate the pain our spirits feel when we are treated this way. And it can make it a little easier to forgive.

Regardless of the severity of the behavior, left unchecked, it can do serious harm over the long term.

At the very least, it leads to a breakdown in communication, which can feed the behavior even more and lead to resentment on the part of both parties. If left untended, it can lead to the end of a once-nourishing friendship or relationship.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Just as our words and our behavior can do harm, they also can heal.

Think back to a time when something you said or did was a blessing in someone else’s life.

Maybe you listened to them, and spoke to them with compassion, empathy and patience. You could see in their eyes the gratitude that someone understood, and that they did so in such a gentle way.

Maybe you gave them a heartfelt hug or just softly touched their shoulder, sending the message that someone out there does care. In doing so, you noticed them visibly relax a little.

You have just lightened the physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual load they carry every day.

We all are aware how public “discourse” has gone from respectfully expressing our opinions on an issue to slinging anger and hate-filled words to those with whom we ideologically disagree.

It is going to take a grassroots effort to change this trend.

That effort begins with each one of us noticing the words and tone of voice we use, as well as the vibe we give off, in our daily interactions at work, home and school, and then asking ourselves, “Where is this coming from? Why am I lashing out at this person?”

And when we notice any of these are off with ourselves, we intentionally choose to not allow our stress to be manifested through our behavior. We can ask ourselves how to handle our stressors constructively. How can we speak to the other without trapping them in our current negative weather?

We choose to control ourselves and speak kindly in a calm, even tone.

We converse. We don’t cut off.

Extra credit goes to those who proactively seek out ways to grow in empathic knowledge and behavior by reading an article, taking an online class or the like.

I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.” Deutoronomy 30:19

What do you want your life to be: a blessing or a curse?

Choose accordingly.

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column by Jerrilyn Zavada Novak that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact her at jzblue33@yahoo.com.