I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a relationship that’s lasted a whole year. Maybe this helps explain some of my current troubles… and past troubles, for that matter. On at least three occasions I’ve managed to date someone for several months before things came crashing down like an Angry Birds edifice. This has led to a certain hardening of my spirit, as well as something that could be called mental toughness until it occasionally morphs into utter disdain. Sadly, each of the three young women I just mentioned bore the brunt of my post-breakup disdain in the form of melodramatic missives delivered via email or text. Writing these diatribes was akin to making my last stand against total humiliation, using the only weapon I had left: words.
This tendency to test the limits of the full power of words has crept up on earlier occasions. I once wrote something entitled “Protest and Exposition Against the Widespread Fakeness and Hypocrisy at Dickson County High School.” You should be able to hazard a guess of when and where that was written. From the same time period, a friend and I wrote some short stories called “Tidbits o’ Violent Acts,” composed solely to amuse ourselves about what would happen if someone ever found them. How psychotic we would seem! Unfortunately that unintended scenario came to pass when my mom rummaged through my backpack for some reason and discovered them. That poor lady has had to put up with plenty of my hijinks over the years.
During my initial college years, the writing continued. These were the early days of the web, a fun new medium to dispense my decrees worldwide! With titles such as “The Three Most Unacceptable College Fads,” “The Decline of America’s Education System,” and “Dating is Hindered by Tact and Facades,” these essays were not lacking in bluntness, but their chief purpose was to bring some levity and laughs to otherwise difficult situations. Things got a bit more severe when I decided to withdraw from college after two and a half years. In a letter sent to the chancellor and one of the deans, I wrote:
Washington University, like any other school, is a systematic structure of fakeness and hypocrisy that has become a machine, one which devours still impressionable young men and women, strips them of any potential to develop their unique interests in an efficient way, instills within them ideals that ensure maximum conformity and assimilation to the popular social orders of the day, and excretes a horde of ready-made human fodder who are convinced that the experience was somehow beneficial or even necessary for future “success.”
Reading this now elicits a small grin, but it does demonstrate how far I’m willing to go to make a point. And I have come to realize that the vast majority of people would consider this “too far.” In recent months, this caustic tone has made its way back into my writing, as I have launched verbal grenades on a variety of social media outlets and personal texts. My words have shocked family and friends, who thankfully have intervened by talking with me personally instead of leaving me to my own absurd devices. I am deeply grateful to each of them and will now attempt to explain why I think things got to this point.
Some hints on this issue have already been provided in the preceding paragraphs. I have always had a rebellious streak that primarily takes the form of words, whether written or spoken. Others may rebel by getting involved in drugs, illicit sex, vandalism, or whatever else, but my method of rebelling has always involved a pen or a keyboard. I do get some sort of rush from blunt discourse, which is why I’ve always been eager to engage in any war of words rather than ever being deeply hurt, which I now understand is the much more common human response.
Meanwhile, we just experienced one of the most intense elections of our lives, which certainly bred an atmosphere where my temptation towards blunt talk took full root. I personally voted for Donald Trump after following the campaign for over a year, partly because I related strongly to his usage of blunt words in an age of extreme sensitivity. In my view, our society was due for a reckoning like this because of how strange life had become in various places around the country, especially college campuses and late night talk shows. Terms like “safe space,” “trigger warning,” and “check your privilege” had become part of our lexicon, and there finally came a resistance.
In the aftermath of the election, I resorted to full-fledged gloating, which I now realize was a major mistake. In my glee for a real victory for bluntness, I took bluntness to its extreme, violating one of my most sacred principles: balance. I have always argued that too much of anything is harmful and that moderation should be a guiding principle in any endeavor. Words, I now know better than ever, are my chief weakness, even as they may also be my greatest strength. They are weapons I have too often wielded with impunity rather than with responsibility. I apologize to those I have hurt and will hopefully learn a lot from the great conversations I have had with some of you. Thank you, world at large, for your enduring patience.
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”