Why Sass Isn’t Helping: Affirming our Brothers in Speech

“It’s easier to be punched in the face by a dude than to hear a cutting remark from a girl,” a guy friend recently told me. In a guy’s mind, it’s easier to get over a physical bruise than an emotional one. “Words pierce into your soul. They stay with you,” he added.

Ladies, have you ever noticed how much impact our words have?

Our words can resonate deeply in the hearts of others — they have the power to shape and inspire change. But if we distort our gift of femininity, or as my homie JP2 calls it, “the feminine genius,” we become destructive rather than constructive.

It’s Not Funny

Sarcasm is often thought of as a form of comedy. Sure it may make others laugh, but if you pay close attention, you’ll notice the only one not laughing is usually the person the sarcasm was pointed at.

Now, I’m not talking about the type of irony used in humor, which requires creativity with words. Sarcasm uses another person, exposing their weakness and making fun of it. Sass, like sarcasm, is when you speak in a way that is rude or disrespectful; to fail to show respect for another for the sake of amusement. But more than just a method of “humor,” sarcasm is actually a fruit of anger and a sign of woundedness. If that wound isn’t healed and transformed in Christ, it is transmitted to others —those to whom we direct our sarcasm.

This is the complete opposite of what St. John Paul II teaches us in his brilliant (but dense) book, Love and Responsibility. In it, he shares that the only proper response to a human person is love. A person is never a means to an end, even in a joke.

There’s Actual Science to All This

Believe it or not, guys have feelings too. In the Rich Gift of Love course (I HIGHLY recommend it), Sister Jane Dominic emphasizes that according to neurology and psychology, men and women experience emotional needs differently.

Dr. Philip Mango, who teaches the psychology behind the Theology of the Body, explains that men’s biggest fear is failure — not being able to do something. Their primary psychological needs include respect for their perseverance, strength, ability, and courage. This is what makes them feel worthy.

When it comes to how men and women interact with each other, the words of women, in particular, can make or break a man. The fastest way for a man to shut down, retreat, and feel down on himself is when he is being criticized, ridiculed, disrespected, and/or manipulated by a woman.

Saint John Paul II said that the more authentically feminine women are, the more authentically masculine men will become. (The reverse is true too, so the fellas also have a responsibility to society).

We inspire men to be their best when we’re at our best. We want our men to be good, healthy, manly men, don’t we? Women inspire men to be better, so we can start changing the world around us by our own actions. Fulton Sheen noted that, “the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, and goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

Try it Out

One way we, as women, can build up our brothers is through affirmation and encouragement.

When in need of assistance: Instead of asking “Can you help,” say, “Would you help me?”

It’s a subtle difference, but the word “can” comes off like you are doubting his abilities. Can he? Of course he can! And if he can’t, he will try his best because he wants to put his strength and problem-solving skills to good use.

When accepting help: Instead of saying, “I’ve got it,” say, “Thank you!

He knows you can open the door. He’s not stupid anddoesn’t think you’re weak or incapable. Men often feel most alive when they are able to serve and provide, and we have the opportunity to give them a chance to do so — even in little ways, like letting them hold a door open or carry something for us (despite the fact that we are more than capable of doing those things ourselves).

When offering encouragement: Instead of saying, “Good luck,” say, “You’ve got this.”

Luck sounds like such an iffy thing. It can also come across as a bit pessimistic, like he “needs” luck because you don’t really believe he can dominate his next game or test. “You’ve got this,” on the other hand, is empowering and shows you believe in him, giving him the extra pep in his step he may need. Add in “I’ll pray for you,” and he’ll be reminded of his heavenly Father who also wills the best for him.

When accepting a compliment: Instead of saying, “I know, right?” say, “Thanks.”

Accept a compliment as a gift. I’ve talked to a few high school and college guys about their thoughts on this and nothing irks them more than when he takes the initiative to show a bit of kindness and respect and a woman responds with a diva attitude. Conceitedness is never going to encourage and affirm the men around us. Be graceful; a simple “thanks for noticing” will suffice.

Exercising Self-Knowledge

If love is an action, it begins with our speech and how we react to others.

One thing I always ask to keep myself in check is, “What would Mary do?” I look to her example in all things because she is the woman par excellence who did not have the brokenness of Eve. She is full of grace.

Do you struggle with sarcasm and negative speech? Bring it up to the Lord. Ask Him to heal your heart and thoughts, and transform any negativity into charity and peace. At the end of each day, we can also reflect on the love (or lack thereof) in our interactions by asking ourselves:

  • Did my way of speaking bring life or tear it down?
  • Did my words inspire others to be more virtuous?
  • Did I speak for the sake of boosting my own ego?
  • Why did I react the way I did in a certain situation?
  • Did my words reflect anger/insecurity/distrust/woundedness? Why do I feel this way?
  • How can I show God’s love in the way I speak?

Our words are a reflection of our hearts, so they have the ability to reveal a lot about where we’re at — spiritually and emotionally. Taking control of our speech takes a great deal of discernment and self-awareness, and to grow in genuine friendship with one another, especially with men, we need to learn to be more intentional with all we do and say. This is one step we can all take toward becoming more wholehearted and free women of God.