Suffering the Slings and Arrows
I lost my temper... maybe.
I'm still not sure.
All I know is I was frustrated...
and I loudly slung out my words...
at one of my kids.
(Is that losing your temper?)
It was over one of those things my 10-year old son has been doing over and over.
And I've been attempting to correct that behavior over and over.
It happened again - and I'd had enough.
So as my family was getting ready to casually sit down at the dinner table, I spoke loudly in frustration at him.
That's when it happened...
I saw my son quake, even if for just a half-second.
Meaning, he noticeably was shocked-to-attention by my tone.
I pressed on... I kept making my point, talking at that level. After all, I was right in what I was correcting him on.
The question is if I was right in how I was doing it.
My family eventually sat down and ate dinner, and the conversation that took place was what you might expect it to be. Everyone talked lightly without acknowledging the awkward funk in the air. I don't often yell, and so this was an atypical scenario.
Maybe that's why with every bite, I felt uneasy with whether or not my yelling was necessary.
Not permissible... not justifiable... but necessary.
Don't jump to my defense. So many times as parents we want to let another parent off the hook for doing something we may find ourselves doing one day. Again, the question is if the yelling was necessary.
As I continued chewing on my dinner, I realized that whatever had just happened would be a lasting memory in my kid, like an arrow that had penetrated through his everyday personality and lodged itself into his heart. You and I have had this happen in our lives countless times, be it an adult/boss/coach/teacher whose corrective words sank deep within us or a peer who pointed out something that made us feel flawed. Suffering the slings and arrows of such "constructive criticism" isn't always as constructive as we think.
Consider this thought from Brent Curtis' / John Eldredge's book "The Sacred Romance":
There are only two things that pierce the human heart. One is beauty. The other is affliction.
Arrows have struck us all. However they come to us, whether through a loss we experience as abandonment or some deep violation we feel as abuse, their message is always the same: Kill your heart.
Think of how you've handled the affliction that has pierced your own heart. How did the arrows come to you? Where did they land? Are they still there? What have you done as a result?
The haunting of the Romance and the Message of the Arrows are so radically different and they seem so mutually exclusive they split our hearts in two. The romance tells us life will flourish when we give it away in love and heroic sacrifice. The arrows tell us that we must arrange for what little life there may be, manipulating our world and all the while watching our backs. Instead of dealing with the arrows, we silence the longing. And so we lose heart.
This metaphor has been helpful for understanding not only why certain wounds of my own have stayed with me, but how I can me more attentive to the wounds I might cause.
"Can we talk for a minute?" I asked my son, motioning that we go to another room. He nodded, and we both excused ourselves from the table and sat on a couch around the corner.
"First off," I began, "I love you. You know that I haven't liked that thing you've been doing, but let's put that aside for a moment. I need to tell you that I'm not sure I handled what happened tonight in the right way."
My son quietly sniffed. He hadn't spoken all throughout dinner either.
"The reason I yelled was because I was trying to get your attention on something that you haven't stopped doing, and it's affecting your brother and sister. That matters to me, because I love them, too... and I was frustrated about it."
"What I have to be honest about is I'm not sure if in my anger I sinned, or if I shared my anger appropriately. There are rare times when yelling is okay if a situation calls for it. You won't always be clear on when that is, though. So I'm going to have to ask you to forgive me if my yelling wasn't necessary... just like you make mistakes, I make mistakes. Does that make sense?"
He nodded again. "I forgive you, dad."
We talked further for a few more minutes, and as each moment passed I felt us working toward something redemptive together. It was as if the "arrow" I'd embedded was coming loose and eventually came out of him.
He would still be marked by what had happened... but without an "infection."
I'm still chewing on this. Any advice? Can you relate?
Impact was what came to mind. Correct or incorrect is almost impossible to discern objectively from inside the situation or out. We know my volume affliction, so I won’t pretend to have a handle here, but I do know impact, and you made it. My mother always yelled rather than spank, more accurately, “nagged very loudly,” to the point where I, in frustration, more than once begged loudly for a smack instead. She did not. But she also had a small handful of curse words, three really, and those were for use when frustration and pain set in for her. As with most things frequently seen or heard, they were taken for granted by all but her. But there was one time when the family was together and dad was clowning around with my sister, she was never fond of the particular humor he used in the game, let’s just say it involved a pulled finger, a biological function and chasing her around the dining room. Well, as they ran, she cautioned, they ignored and sure enough, mom’s favorite vase walked right off of the table crashing to the floor. She brought out the word, the one she not only never said, but would not tolerate in her presence and at the top of her lungs she yelled it, as well as a profanity laced indictment of the game that had gone on most of my young life. My father, the Teamster who not only imported that and many more words into our home daily, was absolutely silent and dropped into his chair like a kid being scolded. Impact. Necessary? Mom felt horrible and ugly. But that game stopped. At least in the house.
A long winded way of saying, if you want it to matter when it happens, then sprinkle it sparingly. Unless you wanna seem like a Teamster or a cabbie…