Sometimes, you need someone to say harsh words to you to be able to fully appreciate and comprehend the power and beauty of kind words. Sometimes, truths are harsh, and completely necessary. But understand first the difference between harsh words and harsh truths. Harsh words are not necessary harsh truths and harsh truths don’t necessarily include harsh words.
It’s difficult to control what comes out of our mouths, especially in the spur of emotional moments. When you’re sad, when you’re angry, you often speak of things you don’t really mean. Things that after the moments pass, you regret saying. The things you say when you’re feeling something strongly are dangerous.
That’s why Buddha said, “Open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than silence.” I grow up in a little town where I still (even now) hear horror stories of how parents say to their children, “Why are you so stupid? This is such a simple question yet you got it wrong. This is such a silly little mistake.” Worse, “You’re useless.”
There’s no place for mistakes. Mistakes send your heart racing, make your palms perspiring. 99 is not enough. It has to be a 100. Just the other day I told my aunt (who, thank God, is NOT a typical Asian mom) that I have learned that I don’t need a perfect score to survive. Mistakes are not bad as long as you don’t forget and repeat them again.
Not only parents, the teachers too. I grow up in a community where parents put their children in numerous private tuition centers and in these institutions, the teachers further drilled into the students’ heads that mistakes are frowned upon. At every turn of the head, I was told that do not commit a mistake. Mistake equals doom.
When I first studied abroad, I had to unlearn everything I know about mistake and practice really hard to leave my comfort zone. I used to get cold sweat just thinking what if I make mistake? Then my brain will think of a thousand ways things could go wrong and with every scenario, my head amplified the consequences and the outcomes. Mistakes are irreversible, I thought, and so every time I made one, my mind just went blank because all the yelling, all the “you’re so stupid” emerged from my subconscious and instead of thinking how to fix it, I kept thinking I shouldn’t have. Which believe me, did not help at all.
Now, I know better. Mistakes are part of life. They are lessons and like all lessons, one day, you’ll have an exam. If you don’t learn, how can you do the exam? I have family and friends who asked me, how can you travel to faraway foreign places all by yourself? Are you not scared? I don’t know what kind of adventures they think I’m having. They probably think I’m like Indiana Jones going on crazy ventures.
But here’s the truth. I’m not afraid to make mistakes. Instead of “what if”, I think “so what” and suddenly, my comfort zone doesn’t feel so comfortable anymore.
Harsh truths don’t need harsh words. Don’t mistake the two because they are not interchangeable. I am teaching myself not to say anything unless I have something nice to say. I still snap sometimes. After all, I am trying to change a habit I’ve done for many years. But it’s like muscles. The more you train, the better you’ll be. Don’t beat yourself too much if you snap, after all, everyone makes mistakes. Learn from these mistakes and make sure you try your best not to do it again.
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