Words to Live By: Vitriol

That awkward and surprising moment when someone’s words are so angry and so sharp you nearly drop your phone as if it physically bit at your fingertips. And all from only text messages, black typed words on a small digital screen.

“You can’t read a person’s tone through text.”

Yes, I’ve heard this. While I do think it’s very possible to miscommunicate through text messages, I do believe it’s possible to sense or feel an emotion when it’s strong enough. And the other week, whoo. I certainly felt it. Like an electric shock raced up my arm and buzzed through my teeth.

What was the text? Well, I won’t go into detail out of respect of those involved, just that good deeds don’t go unpunished and sometimes you have to let people who don’t want to be close stay away. WAAAAY over there!

I believe I have a complex about family and familial relationships, that we must try to hang onto whoever we were born to and all of that sappy Hallmark Christmas special stuff. Unfortunately, we get very clear signals from certain people: I want to be left alone and away from you.

Don’t have to tell me twice.

Anne Lammott in her book Bird by Bird writes in one chapter that sometimes characters in our stories don’t always do what we want them to; they try to veer off in other directions or have a personality quirk that disrupts the plotline. She relates this to a person who finds their neighbor drunk and passed out on their front lawn every day. The passerby takes time out of their day to take them into their house and put them on their couch. They do this nearly every day, the sober neighbor grabbing the drunken one off their lawn and inside. Finally, another neighbor who has been watching this stops them one morning and says, “Honey, leave them where Jesus laid them.”

In other words, you can’t change everyone or always make the positive difference. People have to want it for themselves.

When I received the mentioned text message, I immediately felt apologetic for the anger and hostility that I was met with; obviously this was my mistake. I pushed too hard and hurt feelings, though I didn’t understand how. To be certain that I wasn’t blinded by my own need to keep a family member included, I took a screenshot and sent it to a close friend and colleague. I asked them if they could see what I sent was wrong or offensive, knowing this person is logical and empathetic enough to kindly steer me correctly if it’s needed.

“Oh, no, they’re being an a*****e. There was no need for such vitriol.”

Not only was a life lesson being learned, I also discovered a new word that I had to look up (you can see why I trust this knowledgeable friend).

Vitriol: 1.) Cruel and bitter criticism. (2.) Sulfuric acid.

Either definition felt fitting to the situation.

I keep rolling that word around in my head, some mind candy that I picture is like a sour warhead that never loses its bitter tang. Probably like the family member who doesn’t need to make the message more clear: they live their life apart and enjoy that. Anything else is not wanted and offensive.

Not to say that I think of this family member as “gone” or cut off even, just that I know better than to expose myself to, well, such vitriol when all intentions were from a good and friendly natured purpose.

Vitriol is as vitriol does.

Sounds like a bitter medicine that no amount of sugar will help go down. Sorry, Mary Poppins, but I will not have a spoonful of that if I can help it.

It’s bittersweet to find such a neat new word to focus on and incorporate into one’s vocabulary but to learn it from such a hard and stinging way.

As for the family member, I deleted the conversation but keep the number in place. Just in case. I’m a sympathetic for the angry and disdainful. I don’t believe many become that way without reason. The meaner they are, usually we discover the more they suffered in one way or another. There are unspoken issues at work, and while that makes us human, it’s never an excuse to lash out and hurt another so coldly. So I will let them be, let them live their life and deal with their plight.

Waaaaaaay over there.

Have you ever dealt with a situation like this? Or do you have a favorite random word of your own? Comment below and let me know!

Happy Wednesday!

-A.R.

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