Do you tend to make comments that uplift people? Or do you tend to make comments that diminish people?
I was having dinner with a friend the other night, and he said something very interesting. I mentioned that I had studied Spanish for seven years in school, and he said, “Seven years? That makes you,” and then he paused and said, “qualified to be a dishwasher.”
I think it may actually make me qualified to teach Spanish, if I were to take a couple teaching courses to supplement all that education. But that’s not the point.
The point is the tone of his remark. Clearly, it was not meant to feel uplifting. It was not a “wow, good for you” kind of comment. It was closer to the demoralizing, demeaning, diminishing end of the spectrum.
Of course, his comments (and anyone else’s comments) don’t have to “make” me feel any particular way. I get to choose how I respond to other people and their remarks. In this case, I didn’t feel upset or diminished. But I did feel surprised.
I was surprised because it was such a telling remark — not about me or where I’m at, but about him and where he’s coming from right now.
I’m not saying that he’s a bad person or a bad friend. I don’t have any judgment about the comment in that sort of way.
Actually, I value the comment for what it was: an indication that he doesn’t feel very powerful right now.
People who feel genuinely powerful (as opposed to bullies or those who have amassed power as a way to control others) have a natural tendency to empower those around them. Think Gandhi or Mother Teresa, though you and I can get there, too. People who truly feel and know their own power find it easy to see other people’s power and to empower them, effortlessly, spontaneously, even unknowingly.
In contrast, my friend’s comment is a sign that he’s coming from a not-so-powerful place, perhaps even somewhere in the neighborhood of powerlessness. And when people feel powerless or weak, they are not naturally inclined — and probably not even able — to empower others. It’s like love or money: You can’t give someone something that you don’t have yourself.
Rather than judge my friend for his rather harsh remark, I actually have a lot of compassion for him. I know he has felt powerful in the past, and I would love for him to feel powerful again.
Just for fun, you might want to pay attention to the casual comments you make — and hear — throughout the day. If you keep an open mind and a gentle heart, I bet you’ll find quite a bit of insight along the way.