When I was in fifth or sixth grade, my dad took me to a 2nd Chapter of Acts concert. It was a special night for the two of us because my sister was too young be out late and the music in all of its 80s glory was too heavy for mom. We enjoyed the concert and bought an album or two to take home. Lyrics to one of the songs, That’s Not Nice to Say, wriggled into my impressionable tween consciousness, right in there with Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer and Def Leapord’s Love Bites.
Fast forward many years, and I still think about the lyrics to That’s Not Nice to Say.
Sticks and stones will break my bones,
But words will break my heart.
Military life is a strange beast. Cross sections of America are cut up, mixed together, and spit out onto military installations across the world. Different ages, backgrounds, education levels, come together in intimate communities. Then throw in a rank structure that comes with its own rules and expectations and competitiveness, just to spice things up.
When I pulled up to my very first military home as a newlywed, the very first thing I heard from a neighbor, before I even stepped inside, was how much I was going to hate living in a stairwell apartment. The next important news I received a little later was that the women on the first and second floors used to be best friends, but they were no longer speaking. Drama from the get go!
Shhh! Come here! Can we talk?
Have you heard the latest on the block?
She what? Oh no! Can’t be true!
But it sounds just like something she would do.
I haven’t always been perfect on the gossip front. There is something thrilling about the shock factor of a good story. There’s one particular instance that weighs heavily on my heart. I wonder if I could have given an individual more of a chance when circles were closing in to shut her out. Still, I always try to remember the power of words both written and spoken. Here are some things to remember when trying to nurture a positive environment:
- Words get repeated in people’s minds. If you give someone a heartfelt compliment like, “Your earrings are so pretty! They really bring out your eyes,” she’s probably going to remember that next time she chooses some earrings. If you make offhanded comments like, “You can’t complain, your husband comes home every night,” she’s going to remember that next time she needs some support.
- Words gain momentum when repeated to other people. Say you have an issue with somebody and decide to talk about it with someone else. Then you both enthusiastically air your grievances. And you do that several times. Pretty soon the story grows to be much bigger. What if you had, admittedly very awkwardly, addressed the issue with the individual instead?
- Written words are powerful too. Next time you send a text, comment on a blog or social media, or write a quick email, ask yourself if you would say the same words, with the same language in person. If the answer is no, find a different way to write it, or don’t write it at all. Written words in a social context can be especially humiliating because many other people can read them.
- Declare yourself neutral territory. It is possible to be friends with two people who don’t get along. You can listen to the grievances of both sides and then lock them in a super secret vault, not to be repeated, and not necessarily agreeing with either side. You don’t have to fight your friends’ fights.
- And hardest of all, stop talking long enough to really hear what other people are saying. Ask them questions, get to know them, find out what makes them tick. Often, when people lash out it’s because they aren’t being heard.
When we started InDependent, and knew that we wanted to build a health and wellness community for military spouses, we were concerned because we wanted it to be a positive, supportive, inclusive environment and we weren’t sure it was possible. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’ve really been pleasantly surprised at how drama free our community has been. Our members cheer for each other, entertain different points of view, and come together based on the common desire to thrive. Having good friends and supportive networks helps you be healthier, and I’m so glad that our communities are growing, offering military spouses a positive network that they can plug into. Thanks so much for being a part of the InDependent movement!
Please check out these blog posts by other military spouses as we work together to create a positive community.