Oh boy, here we go again.
Two times in as many weeks, Republican opponents of President Obama made some highly insulting and ridiculous comments and in the process, made themselves look like asses.
In case you somehow missed it, the first instance happened at the end of July, when Colorado Republican Representative Doug Lamborn appeared on a Denver radio station to discuss his opinions about the debt ceiling. Lamborn wanted to make sure his constituents knew—unequivocally—that he did not support the President. Here’s what he said:
“Even if some people say, ‘Well, the Republicans should have done this or they should have done that,’ they will hold the President responsible. Now, I don’t even want to have to be associated with him. It’s like touching a tar baby and you get it, you’re stuck, and you’re a part of the problem now and you can’t get away.”
“Tar baby” is a racially-charged term that is used to demean blacks.
The idiocy continued last week, when MSN contributor and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan appeared on Rev. Al Sharpton’s cable TV show. During a discussion about Bush era tax cuts, Buchanan repeatedly referred to President Obama as Sharpton’s “boy.”
In today’s vernacular, “your boy” is short for “homeboy,” “road dog,” “side kick.” But during slavery and the Civil Rights era, the word was used by racist whites to denigrate and emasculate black men. Buchanan was a young man during the Civil Rights era. He knew full well how his comments would be construed.
On a morning news show the following day, Buchanan tried to clarify his remarks, saying that although some people took offense, “none was meant, none was intended, none was delivered, for the record.”
For the record, his words pissed off a lot of people, so yeah, offense was delivered. When you use a term that has been used, historically–or even presently–to demean, discriminate against, or degrade people, what you intended doesn’t matter.
What you meant doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what you said.
Which brings me to why this is relevant to you. In your own life, when you disagree with someone about an issue, do you focus on the issue and the reasons you oppose it? Or, do you disagree and while you’re at it, hit below the belt and say things to get a rise out of your opponent? Do you even know?
There is a way to say what needs to be said without tearing down the house, so to speak, or alienating your opponent. That way is simply to state your truth as you mean it, to say what you mean and mean what you say. Simply think before you speak. Decide to be intentional in the way you communicate. For Congressman Lamborn, it might have looked like this:
“No matter what people say the Republicans should have done, ultimately they’ll hold the President—and those who supported his position—responsible if things don’t get better. I didn’t support his position, and I want to make sure the good people of Colorado know it.”
How could anyone take offense to that? He made his point—that he didn’t side with the President on the debt ceiling debate—yet everyone gets to go home with their dignity and self-worth intact.
Think before you speak. Be intentional with the words you choose and decide what message you want people to take away. Then, you won’t end up looking like an ass, furtively bumbling and fumbling to clean up your mess.