Your words can hurt - or build - someone

What will you choose to do today?

Sweta Vikram

Imagine walking into a restaurant and watching a 300-pound man trying to settle into a chair. What’s the first thought that comes to your mind? He shouldn’t be eating here. Why is he eating? What does he eat after all?

What crosses your brain when you see a homeless person mumbling to themselves and picking out of a trash can? The first thought. When a woman voices her opinion unapologetically in a meeting, how often is she labeled “opinionated” or “bitchy” or “aggressive?” When a girl says that she wants to become a sports agent or a fighter pilot, what’s your first response?

Every day all over the world, people are judged unfairly for their political views, their size, their career, their life choices, their demeanor, their dating life, their values, their passion, and so much more.

Sometimes we make quick assumptions about people, circumstances, and situations. And we stereotype them and put them in a box. “He’s so cool.” “She is so boring.” “He is so dumb.” “She is so fat.” “She is an aggressive woman.” “He is an alpha male.” “She is awesome!” “He really sucks.” “She eats too much.” “They made so much money, they must be standoffish.” The list goes on.

Have you ever paused and wondered how your intentional or unintentional words can harm and hurt others?

When I interviewed Ishika Sharan, a 15-year-old sports blogger who is a cricket fanatic, unapologetically opinionated, and an impressive gender-equality-activist-in-the-making, she told me, “The most common response I have heard is ‘Oh, you like the sport or just the handsome player?’ Or ‘do you actually understand the sport, or do you just watch it for that one player?’”

Sometimes people make rude comments intentionally; at other, it might be their unconscious bias. Sometimes we are nasty because we are insecure, intimidated, jealous, and ignorant. What we don’t know, we judge instead of standing on the periphery, observing with curiosity, asking questions, and digging deeper.

Now Sharan has articles published in online magazines. She has an active blog. She describes herself as “Insanely passionate about the world of cricket,” confessing, “Being judged or questioned for my love for sports really agitates me. It makes me feel like no matter how much I do and how hard I try to help spread awareness that it is not weird for girls to be interested in a typically male-dominated sport, the mindsets of many people are just not gonna change. It makes me feel like they are not just disrespecting me, but also the hundreds of thousands of other girls who are just as passionate about the sport around the world. Since it is sort of a message for all of them that “oh you can’t actually understand or know the game, you’re not good enough for that.”

Judgment knows no boundaries. I have seen women (especially in the South Asian community) constantly being scrutinized if they can’t cook.

They may be senior scientists at NASA or Emmy-winning actresses, but if they can’t prepare fresh meals, their worth is considered close to nothing.

Priya Shah from London says, “There have been countless times that if I am inviting a family member for a simple evening meal, my mum suddenly needs me to make them a full-on meal, whereas all I plan is roti and curry, and maybe some dal and rice with a side salad. There have been plenty of times where I have felt that my food isn’t as good as my mum’s or my grandma, and from nowhere there is this pressure [on me] to cook – and cook well. I know this has probably increased since getting married as there seems to be this unwritten law that you must be able to cook for your husband. Now the pressure doesn’t come from my husband and for that I am very grateful, yet there is this weird wiring within that means I need to think about him and his meals.”

Judgment can make you feel less than whole. People are judged if they don’t fit the box or they didn’t act the prescribed way.

The judgments creep into the workplace as well.

Shuchi Sethi, who has held senior leadership positions in corporate America, said, “In corporate life here in the US, we were taught that we had to give the impression of being model employees and could show no vulnerability. It’s changing a little now in some progressive companies with more of an awareness that people should bring their “authentic selves” to work. But we have a long way to go.”

So will you take a stance against judging others and stop telling them what they can or cannot do?

“The self-righteous scream judgments against others to hide the noise of skeletons dancing in their own closets.”John Mark Green