A Plea For Tenderness

by Dana Boyle on January 18, 2013

This week I observed an interaction between a mother and her child who is autistic.  I was sad after witnessing the interaction.  It wasn’t mean or cruel.  It lacked tenderness, when there was an opportunity for the child to be truly seen and loved.  I hear this mother complain about her child all the time.  This opportunity was one where the child was being angelic (something you’d think is rare from what she describes) and she chose to do something other than spend time with him and celebrate him at that moment.  Something else was more important than highlighting the good in her son.

There’s a button that gets pushed for me when I see someone treated with callousness or disregard.  It’s happened to me since I can remember.  I felt it at three or four years old.  I can go through my life memory by memory and recount times when that button was pushed.

There was the time kids at middle school were making fun of a boy who had cerebral palsy, mocking how he talked and walked.  It made my heart whimper.  I spoke up for him and then I wasn’t cool by their standards.

There was the time a mother kicked her son who was no more than 18 months old in the torso, knocking him off the porch, across the street from my parents’ house.  I was enraged, and I silently went inside and called child protective services.

There was the time I was in kindergarten and a little girl in my class peed her pants.  She’d asked the teacher if she could go to the bathroom, and the teacher harshly scolded her, telling her we’d already had a bathroom break.  There she sat, in a puddle, in our five-year-old circle on the shiny hardwood floor, crying as the teacher admonished  her in front of everyone to get paper towels and clean up her mess!  I cried.  Then I got paper towels and I helped her.  And I got yelled at by the teacher for helping her and for telling her it would be ok, we all had accidents.


There was the time I was in high school and an honors English teacher of 12th graders asked a boy who was shy to read aloud.  As his classmates, we knew he was shy, and he had a hard time speaking in groups.  He stumbled over the words, starting over and stammering through.  The teacher rudely stopped him and said, “If this is how you read in an honors English class in 12th grade, I give up.  Are you stupid or something?”  Her words pierced me.  I raised my hand.  She called on me, and I asked her if I could say something.  She said I could.  I told her that she’s an educator of children, and that she just called a child stupid and she has no right to do that because that changes who he is.  I told her that if she feels it’s ok to call a child stupid, she should not be teaching and that if she did not apologize to him I would march to the principal’s office and make him aware of what just happened.  I told her it was unacceptable and uncalled for, and that the boy was obviously a bright kid or he would not be in this class, and explained he was just nervous.  My classmates were silent.  The boy was red faced.  The teacher said, “You’re right.  I owe Mr. ______ an apology.  I’m sorry.  It’ll never happen again.”  But it didn’t matter.  She called him stupid.  To this day I wonder if he has a voice in his head telling him the same.

There was the time I was in the grocery store doing my shopping and a couple was behind me on every aisle.  The husband was berating his wife for every choice she made, every item she wanted or needed, and screaming at her about how she thinks money grows on trees.  There was a particular personal item she needed and he refused to let her put it in the cart, resorting to name-calling and threatening her.  I wanted to ram him with my cart and take her home.  What I did do, after minding my business the entire shopping trip, was purchase the item for her and hand it to her as she was checking out behind me.  I looked straight at her husband and handed her the item, saying, “Here, honey.  You deserve this,” and I walked away.

I’m not writing this to highlight good deeds I’ve done.  I tend to react how I do because it hurts me to see people treated with such disregard, their spirits trampled on.  I’m writing this to remind anyone who reads it that the way you interact with those around you is important work.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou

It’s probably easy for some of us to be disconnected from other souls around us.  I’ve always been so tuned in that I feel other people’s pain and absorb other people’s emotions.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know I’ve had a few moments myself where I’ve disconnected and hurt someone’s spirit, and I was immediately full of remorse and sadness because I felt their pain right away.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of someone stomping on my spirit, and not only does it hurt to have your spirit stomped, it also hurts to tell them they’re doing it to you and be invalidated and ignored, or worse, for the behavior to continue.

Every one of us is special.  We are all here for a purpose.  We are all connected.  Each one of us is a gift.  What we do to others, we do to ourselves.  Every one of us just wants to be truly seen and valued in this life.

None of us has the right to make someone less than, to humiliate someone, to degrade them, or to flat out wound their spirit and change who they are.

It occurred to me yesterday as I observed this mother and her child that while everything in my life seems to revolve around connection and relationships, what I truly value in that realm and want to see is tenderness – reverence for others, compassion, kindness, respect for the soul that God created who is standing in front of you.

You don’t have any more right to be standing where you are and occupying a human body and breathing in air than the person you’re dealing with does.  The people in your life are gifts to you.  They aren’t here by accident.  Act accordingly.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Erika January 18, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Beautiful words, Dana! Thank you for being the beacon of light that you are and reminding us all to treat others with kindness and love.


Dana Boyle January 18, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Thank you, Erika! You are another beautiful beacon of light.


Sarah January 22, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Dana, I love reading your blog! I haven’t checked it in a while, so I was glad I thought of it today. What a well written piece. Sadly, much of it rings true for many and really hits home for me. It would be amazing if more people could realize the magnatude of how they make others feel through poor word/action choices. If I listen close, I can still hear the junior high whispers of mean spirited boys, the ‘talks’ untrained managers would give where they caused more harm than good, the evil things that poured from both an ex-boyfriend & an ex-husbands mouth, and the 27 yrs I have spent waiting for my dad to want to be my dad again. Yes…it all made me who I am, but I think I could have learned without quite so much pain. I too am not always the nicest, but I try to keep those thougts and actions to myself the best I can.


Dana Boyle January 22, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Hi Sarah,

Thank you, first, for stopping by. Second, thank you for being so open about your experiences. I really feel your pain…as I read what you wrote, particularly, “…and the 27 years I have spent waiting for my dad to want to be my dad again.” :(

I know that no station is immune to this…I’ve seen people, just as you said, from all walks of life do damage. I can see them doing damage…as they are doing it. I’ve also said, “You’re doing damage,” to those who have spoken to me with cruelty, hoping they’d hear me and stop…at least…and really wanting them to apologize.

I often think the same thing. I know it all “builds character,” but I could do with a tad bit less character, thanks!

Much love to you, lady! I’m glad you recognize when you are thinking things you shouldn’t say out loud…I do as well, and I try my hardest to reframe and send love instead. xoxo


Julie August 19, 2013 at 10:49 am

Dana that was an awesome testimony. You definitely have the gift of compassion and I am glad you do. It’s sad that in today’s world we have to “mind our own business” but I try not to when I see such things occur. Yes, I too get chastised for it by others, but then I retort with, “And why didn’t YOU stand up with me?” We cannot let people think this behavior is acceptable. We are to point it out to people, gently, and you did a marvelous job. I hope many people read this and I am going to post a link to this page on my facebook. Bravo Dana!!!


Dana Boyle November 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Thank you, Julie. I appreciate you visiting and your supportive comments. Agreed!


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