This might be a controversial post!
I have a very clear memory of a moment with my father when I was young. I don’t remember clearly what led to it – just that I felt bad about some interaction with another child at school. Maybe it was an argument, maybe I was bullied, I just remembered feeling bad about it. In explanation of my tears, I told my father something to the effect of “he hurt me.”
His response was advice that I feel is sorely needed by many, and that I carry to this day. He said: “He can’t hurt you, because he’s not touching you. Words can hurt, but then he’s fighting you with his brain instead of his body, and his brain is no match for yours.”
His message was powerful. It wasn’t that words had no power or couldn’t be weaponized, but rather that the power to weaponize a message and use it to hurt could be countered by your own ability to rise above and control your own reaction. No mind has more power over you than your own.
It’s like arm wrestling, but always against a weaker opponent. Mind wresting, and you always have the advantage.
Now, let’s be clear – this doesn’t mean that you should be thoughtless or cruel with your own words, just because someone else could defend. After all, you shouldn’t just arm-wrestle people without their permission, either. It’s still impolite. But it does mean that you always have within you the capacity for defense from insult, offense, and annoyance.
This also doesn’t mean that this first line of defense should be the last. If you see cruelty and injustice in the world, you should act against it even if you’re able to defend yourself from the heartache it would otherwise cause. But let’s be realistic: a calm, clear mind is a better actor against injustice than a raging, sobbing mess. If someone can reduce you to tears with a barb or jest, you’re in no position to fight the good fight to defeat real injustice.
The first battlefield in any fight is your own mind. If you allow your enemies to occupy that territory, you’ll never win anywhere else.