Microaggression — Everything you say matters

Hurt is hurt, no matter how small the words that carry the offense.

Choose to speak powerfully, as though everything you say matters. Because it does. This is how we roll back the negative impact of microaggression in our society, and learn to live more powerful lives ourselves.

You can’t often tell what impact your words have on people around you. Leaders and other people “in power” are notoriously bad at estimating how those around and “below” them respond to what they say. So choose to speak from a place of compassion, and your impact is more likely to be useful, even when you’re disagreeing with someone or speaking about something negative.

This is good news, really. I mean, you want to have an impact, right? Well, by opening your mouth you are! Just because you can’t always see the impact right away doesn’t mean it’s not important.

If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound? The answer is yes. Speak as though everything you say matters and your impact is guaranteed. — @DanaTheus

But why should we pay attention to our little words and phrases. Why does a microaggression deserve the same attention as a macroaggression? Because microaggressions matter as much or more as the big stuff on a daily basis. Learning to speak as intentionally about the small things and the big things, as though they matter equally, can actually change your life and give all your relationships a major upgrade. It works in the same way that taking on the mantle of integrity does when you commit to integrity in everything you do, not just the “big stuff.” When you treat the small things with the same care as you treat the big things, it becomes who you are. So I ask myself all the time, and I invite you to ask yourself now, when I filter only for the things I do consistently, big and small, who am I?

Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something. — Plato

Speak your values in the big stuff and little stuff alike

Most of us fall into the habit of applying prioritization incorrectly to our values and words. We confuse and conflate living our values with prioritizing our time and attention. We have to prioritize our time and attention but we shouldn’t prioritize our values with the same flexibility. When we do, we tumble down the slippery slope of unintentional and unconscious impact.

And the point is to live our values with conscious intentionality when we communicate to bring people together instead of drive them apart.

Of course we have to choose when and how to speak and act in accordance with our values. Should we tell someone who’s being insensitive that their words are hurtful? Not always. Sometimes they figure it out on their own or someone else takes the risk to draw their attention to the impact of their disregard. But at other times, our words make the difference.

Our words can help us defend the defenseless or paint us into the shoes of a bystander to emotional violence.

It may seem like a small thing, the microagressions we don’t know we’re communicating. When we label a mild-mannered man’s action “girly,” we know we’re irritating the object of our attention, but we don’t realize that all the women within earshot tense up a bit, too, feeling derided by association. Or perhaps on its surface a flattering phrase, “what beautiful skin you have,” sounds kind, but in a racial context equates a person with their anatomy with little other value of note.

These things are so tiny. Not anywhere near the physical assault, overt discrimination or angry slander plastered in the headlines. How can our little words hurt those around us?

Even with an intent to honor others, to acknowledge or flatter their lovely features, for example, we can hurt them by not honoring their deeper humanity and value.

Our fractured culture may not be our fault, but it is our problem if by our lack of awareness or outright intent we’re building divides between people instead of tearing them down.

This is my problem and I’m trying to learn how my words have the power to drive divides or create bridges. My biggest lesson so far is that the size of the words, or the hurt, doesn’t matter at all. Microagression and macroaggressions matter equally. Hurt is hurt and healing is healing. My hope is that if I’m open to realizing the impact of my words and learning new ways of speaking to bring us together, no matter the scale, I’ll be part of the solution.

Join me?

Due to the overwhelming response I got to this article, I have written a response to the comment stream in an effort to continue the dialog: Defending the Word Microaggression. If you found this one interesting, please consider joining the discussion over there. Also, for those interested in looking more deeply at what microaggressions look like, particularly in the workplace, you can read Learning to See Bystanderism & Microaggression in the Workplace.

Personal Development resources:

Feel triggered, because you feel like your walking on eggshells, when you think about trying not to offend? Detrigger yourself and you will navigate the eggshells just fine.