by Shannon Baker
Author of the Nora Abbott Mystery Series
“You’re an idiot!”
Those terrible words slam over my six foot backyard fence. The irate holler is followed by a tone so filled with disgust it singes my skin. “Get your ass over here. Put that down.”
I am paralyzed. The scene I was working on vanishes from my mind’s eye and my breath catches.
“You stupid moron!”
A young voice, that of Aiden, my eight year-old neighbor, whines back in argument and what follows is five minutes of the grandfather and grandson sniping at each other with the “adult” flinging out more name-calling.
This scene plays out roughly once a week. I’ve only lived here for eight months and I’m sure this has been going on for a long time. The conflict isn’t confined to this one relationship. Three generations living next door wage frequent battle where I may not be able to overhear words but the tone is evident.
It stops me dead every time. I have a visceral reaction. My breath stutters, my heart races, my skin grows clammy. I’ve always hated conflict. Even as a kid, while my brother and sister clashed over any number of childhood problems, I’d be in the corner crying.
Why can’t my neighbors be nice to each other? Speak with kindness, encourage each other, especially Aiden?
I won’t guarantee Aiden isn’t an idiot. He might or might not be—he’s climbed our fence and done malicious mischief in our backyard, he dug a hole under a tree in the front, he threw rocks through our neighbor’s garage windows, and flung a case of empty jars against the fence in the alley shattering glass outside our yard. Obviously, he’s a troubled kid with needs I can only guess at. But I can’t imagine telling him that’s he’s a moron or an idiot will improve his IQ or his behavioral problems. I might even go so far as to say that kind of verbal battering might actually be at the root of the problem.
As disturbing as that situation is, and believe me, I am not making light of it, it brought home a powerful personal message to me.
While I was clenching my fists and teeth during one such episode, and thinking that some kindness and gentleness might bring about more cooperation and greater potential, a realization struck me. How often do I treat myself with that same impatience and contempt?
I know, we’re writers and a certain amount of that self-deprecating attitude with a dollop of insecurity goes with the job description. But I’ve been particularly abusive of my fragile ego lately. Whatever the details of my shortcomings, it all amounts to me calling myself a stupid moron and telling me to get my ass to my desk and write decent stuff.
Maybe it’s time I treat myself with the same encouragement and pride I wish for Aiden. Instead of tossing aside the colorful crayon picture and focusing on the failing report card, I ought to pin the picture to the refrigerator and shrug over the F, promising that failure isn’t permanent and I will succeed if I keep trying.
Nothing good comes of negative talk, even if it’s only going on between my ears.
So I’m making a pledge to start speaking nicer to myself. I’m going to treat me with the same courtesy and respect I try to give to others. It couldn’t hurt. It might help.
What kind of encouraging things do you do for yourself?
If you’ve got a moment, send a special thought into the universe for Aiden. And even if it’s only for today, be kind to yourself.