David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Unintentional Demeaning ‎Comments

“I see you’ve put on a few pounds since I last saw you.”

“Your hair turned so gray, wow.”

If you’ve been the recipient of these or similar ungracious comments, no doubt it irritated you. And quite likely made you feel bad even brood more than momentarily.

If you recently uttered one of these unkind statements, you undoubtedly noted that the only one who appreciated your off-putting words was yourself. Certainly the person you said it to was neither laughing nor appreciative.

Which words said to you would pique you‎?

Would it concern your height, your weight, maybe the way you wear your hair?

If you’re a man, would any word on your receding hairline, baldness or a newly showing paunch ‎hard earned from your wife’s excellent culinary delights offend you.

I recently sat next to a man on a plane who told me he recently had stomach surgery and had shed more than 100 lbs. He was very proud of himself though knowing he was still overweight. Imagine the difference for him hearing, you look great,‎ you’ve lost weight versus I see you’re still struggling with your weight.

Imaging working hard these last few months to trim a few pounds. You’re on a new diet, fighting every day to lose mere ounces. You’re at the gym several times a week doing pilates. ‎You have a dress you want to fit into at an upcoming good friend’s wedding.

The big night arrives you’ve spent the last two months preparing for, you feel very good about your weight, your hair, your dress. You feel that you look good.

What does that irritant of a person do when you see each other minutes after you arrive at the wedding? She gives you the once over with a smirk saying nary a word, which says it all.

Unless you’re made of steel or your self-confidence is hovering at a near perfect 10 most people would bristle at that encounter.

How difficult would it have been for her to say, you look great, whatever you’ve done in the last few weeks to look like this paid off.  Or to say nothing at all.

There’s a famous adage in Talmud, syag l’chochma shtika, the road to wisdom is silence.

It remains so simple to say a good word that would elevate a person’s self-esteem. It’s rather unfortunate that some people intentionally or even unintentionally make comments that not only demean but may also offend.

I’m not suggesting that any of us need be overly solicitous to our friends or colleagues. In fact, it may be inappropriate in some circles, cultures, religion or workplace to make comments such as you look beautiful, your dress is to kill, I see you’ve been losing weight and so forth. Oftentimes, workplace etiquette requires an even more careful verbal relationship balance than with friends or family.

Bullying is the act of one’s behavior to dominate or control another. It can take many forms – the overt physical dominance or the subtle slight to make you feel less than the person who is the bully.

One may not at first consider a comment such as, you worked so hard and have so little to show for it, to be bullying, but isn’t it?  Or you’re so pathetic, or why do you even bother?

Contrast that with, ‎I know you’ve spent a lot of time preparing for this special occasion and it really shows. Instead of, I haven’t seen you look so good in a long time, try, you really look wonderful today. A negative turned into a positive.

Which would you rather hear?

Which person would you rather be?

I love the way your hair turned gray, you look really good.

Have you been on your feet all day, can I offer you my seat?

What did you do with that outfit, you look great.

So few people could pull that off, you’re amazing.

Good job.

I like the way your mind works, you’re so creative.

Thank you, I really appreciate it.

I love the way you….

And while you’re making another person feel good your unselfishness will imperceptibly create a more positive sense within you.

Some things in life may truly be that simple.

(and thanks for reading my article.)

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.