A Kind Word Turns Away Wrath …

by Lorien E. Menhennett

Words we've all heard: "What do you think you're doing?" "What is wrong with you?" "Don't you know any better?"

Words we’ve all heard:
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Don’t you know any better?”

We’ve all been there: borne the brunt of whatever the woman in the photo to the right is saying. Had fingers pointed at us. Been yelled at. Criticized for something that wasn’t our fault. That’s a given, in life. What differentiates people is not whether that happens, but how one responds.

I’m headed into a world – medical school, and eventually a career in medicine itself – where the people around me will not always be nice, no matter how nice I am to them. Another fact of life.

I was reminded of this fact recently as I talked with a friend who is currently in medical school, and doing her hospital rotations. She recently started in general surgery, and BOOM. Another med student, who wants to go into a surgical specialty, immediately showed himself to be a know-it-all, and a pretty nasty person all around in terms of making my friend feel incompetent and useless (even though this was her first week on the rotation). My friend, thankfully, maintained decorum and professionalism all the way through. (I’m so proud of you!) When this other med student was breathing down her neck about her not being able to figure out a charting issue, she told him that she understood that it was taking her longer than it might take him, but in a few days, she would have the system figured out. When he responded that he was just trying to help, she told him, basically, that she appreciated that fact, but that his standing right behind her and raising his voice was actually more distracting than helpful.

My friend could have easily gone off on this guy, yelled back, and from some people’s viewpoints, she would have been justified in doing so. But in the world of medicine, where there will be people like this, you have to learn to deal with them in an appropriate, healthy way (albeit not letting them walk all over you). Because if you let them get to you, it hurts only you, not them.

My mom, who is a hospice nurse, and I talked about this topic this morning. She reminded me of a biblical proverb:

A kind word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

While I’m not a religious person, I do believe in this sentiment. If you respond in kind to harsh words, things tend to escalate and get worse. That’s not to say you let yourself be a doormat – you can have a backbone but still be respectful and professional.

That’s how I want to handle such situations when I’m in medical school, and when I am a physician. And now is a great time to start doing just that.