My Words are Weapons
I don’t mean to be an asshole, but I say things that automatically make me an asshole
“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.”
— Napoleon Hill
Back in college, our dorms were segregated by gender by floor. In my dorm, the bottom two floors were boys, the top floor was girls. I lived on the first floor. Several cute girls lived on the third floor. One of them was a beautiful Asian girl from Staten Island that had both style and attitude to match her thick S.I. accent.
One night, only a week or two into freshman year, a few of the girls from upstairs were hanging out in my room with my roommate and I. At some point, the girl from Staten Island sits in my lap. Ultimately, my roommate went to bed and everyone else left the room, so she and I were alone.
We stayed up almost the entire night, making out and talking. For someone that wasn’t exactly Pussy Posse-era Leonardo DiCaprio, this was amazing. It was, at the time, one of the best nights of my life.
A day or two later, I was sitting in my room with the door open, listening to music. She came in and sat down next to me. We spoke about nothing for a few minutes. Finally, she asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I responded.
I wasn’t lying. There was nothing specifically wrong, I was just experiencing a feeling of general sadness, which is not all that rare for me, especially back then.
“What’s wrong?” she asked again.
Since I often presented myself as gregarious and outgoing in social situations, she didn’t realize how brooding I can be in private. Moreover, I was an arrogant, insecure 18-year-old college freshman who had almost no control over his emotions (or his words).
“What’s wrong?” she insisted.
Finally, I snapped. “Fuck off! Nothing!” I said loudly. I didn’t mean it literally. I wasn’t telling her to fuck off, I was just trying to reiterate that nothing was wrong and I wanted her to stop asking.
She stared at me for a few seconds before standing up and walking out of my room.
We never spoke again.
It was neither the first or last time that I would say something that would cause a person to storm off, hate me, and/or never speak to me again.
In fact, my hurtful words have caused the vast majority of the interpersonal problems in my life.
“We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”
— Winston Churchill
“What are you thinking?”
Whenever someone asks me this, they are almost always stunned by my answer, suddenly regretting they ever asked the question in the first place.
“You asked,” I’ll say with a shrug.
Have you ever said something you didn’t really mean?
When I was younger, I didn’t understand that there is a difference between being telling the truth and being brutally honest. I too often say what I am thinking, even if I am feeling that way only for a moment or to get people leave me alone or stop asking me questions. I’ll quickly insist that that’s not what I think or who I am, but in the moment, it is what I think and who I am, at least in that moment.
More than my face or my awkwardness or anything else, this character flaw has repeatedly been my downfall. I strive for perfection and, I am successful by most measures, but I often fail at this most basic level. My words have nearly cost me my first job out of college. They sabotaged my only chance at a threesome. They have caused friction in most of my personal relationships and were (probably) the biggest reason for the death of my friendships.
I did it again last Saturday night.
I went into Manhattan for a close friend’s birthday. I had a great time, but by 3 a.m. I was ready to go home, especially since I wasn’t sure how I was going to get home. (I find it amazing that while New York is the city that never sleeps and the bars are open until 4 a.m., New Jersey Transit stops running back shortly after 1 a.m.)
My friend asked why I was leaving. I gave a pissed-off, snarky answer that was also very hurtful. It was rude. It was also completely unnecessary.
We’re both busy professionals with families, so we don’t see each other as much as we would like and we were having a great time. It felt like the old days. She didn’t want the night to end.
I should have understood. I know the feeling all too well. For years, I was her, insisting that we stay out, because as long as the night continued, we could keep the worries and responsibilities of tomorrow at arm’s length.
We parted without saying goodbye — she mad at me for what I had said, me mad at her for my belief that she didn’t empathize with my desire to get home.
When I told a friend what happened, he said, “Well, you do have a slick mouth,” before adding, “but it’s not like this is new.” My initial reaction was to protest that it was an isolated mistake, that it’s not who I am.
My track record, however, says otherwise.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. He has been quoted on Buzzfeed and Deadspin. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.