Insinuations and Accusations: How Words Destroyed Me

“Be impeccable with your word…The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think and thereby to create the events in your life…The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic. But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you.”

                        — don Miguel Ruíz, The Four Agreements

In the philosophical work The Four Agreements, the first agreement that is explored is to “Be Impeccable with Your Word.” According to the author and philosopher himself, don Miguel Ruíz, it is the most important of the four. He entreats the reader to think of the far reaches of the words we choose and how their thoughtless application, their reckless deployment, exposes others to personal harm. But, the most staggering advice he offers about the impeccability of the words we use is that the first person chiefly defaced by our poor word choices is us, those of us who carelessly opine, senselessly dress down, willfully attack, craftily malign. As the stinging opinion moves across our lips it stains us nearly irredeemably  in the view of the listener, whether that person be the target or the unwitting observer who simply had the misfortune of being in the room to witness the destructive act. The person injured by the words may grow to despise the speaker but also despise themselves because of what was spoken. The involuntary observer may be transported back to a similar humiliating experience, or simply empathize with the demeaned person, and then begin to resent the speaker and seek his demise. Each of these ruinous emotions is bound to the words that gave rise to them, and in this way, our words harm us extensively and most immediately. The preventive measure is to mete out careful, thoughtful word choices, ones to which we are willing to be inextricably cohered, and that is the meaning of being ‘impeccable’ with your word.

Through counseling I would later learn that I had established, during those younger years, a pattern of behavior that involved choosing truly barbarous words to whip myself into humility or to correct the simplest of errors…

Darius E. Bennett, Esq.

At age fifteen I started my first non-farming job with a local retail chain aptly named Bargain Town. We sold all and sundry, at a bargain. My excitement at starting this first job off the farm was irrepressible, and I told everyone willing to listen! My friends wondered how I would balance work and school. My family wondered how I would fair in a retail store that had only one other Black employee; this was smalltown Alabama in the early nineties.  I, on the other hand, wondered how I could possibly wait another few days for my start date! I am a worker. I have spent a lifetime working and aiming to master the work assigned to me. I quite enjoy the exposure, the inevitability that I will learn something, and yes hopefully, the equitable compensation for my contributions. As we say here in Alabama, I come by my hard-working nature honestly. My maternal grandparents, my mother, and multiple of her siblings were all nose-to-the-grindstone workers. Held in that light, this first job was the start of something great: I was joining their ranks,  learning to earn a wage. (I eventually learned that pay is often not equitable!) Before my first day, my paternal grandmother’s advice was not to steal, to “save your little money and buy what you want.” Prescient advice. My parents’ advice was to always think numbers when someone discussed numbers with me (i.e., do the math, re-check the math) and to “have a mind of your own! Think for yourself!” Equally clairvoyant.

I was initially hired as the stock associate. As the name implies, I re-stocked the shelves as they emptied from sales and took occasional short-form inventory. I also received from the carrier the weekly stock from the shipper, learned to check the security tie to make sure that it had not been broken or replaced, and learned to compare the bill of lading against what was delivered. I would later learn that typically a stock associate simply unloads the shipment container and that the manager is charged with checking the security tie and confirming the accuracy of bill of lading, but I was too grateful to register my newly-acquired skills as assets and too dutiful to question if a fifteen-year-old should take on such responsibility. As dyed-in-the-wool philomath, I was learning and that was all that mattered, or so I thought.

One day the store was short a cashier. I was called up from my duty of dust-mopping the sales floor and trained on the spot to operate the cash register. I was told that it was temporary and that I was only covering that employee’s absence. That was my boss’ perspective, and mine, again, was one of gratitude. I learned to move customers through the point of sale at a reasonable pace, with very few errors. I kept my error count low by constantly thinking numbers, as my parents had advised.  If I was given a $20.00 note against a sales total of $19.36, I knew the difference was .64 cents before the cash register displayed the change owed. The cashier next to me, the only other Black employee, taught me to maintain a closed cash drawer while the client decided on her payment method and to re-secure the drawer if the client asked that I go on to the floor and check the price of that item that (curiously) no longer had its price tag. This was also far-seeing advice that a I followed fastidiously.  Yet, I still had not foreseen what was to come.

Therefore, the first time my till was ‘short’ over $100.00, I was bewildered and anxious! Would the head manager believe that I had not pocketed the money? Had I given out too much change? Perhaps one of the larger notes had fallen to the floor instead of sliding into the small opening designed for them? I had been a back-up cashier for months by this point, and this had never happened! As the head manager re-counted the till, I re-counted the till, and the numbers each time were incompatible with a balanced till. In a seeming effort to temper my disquiet, the manager offered to allow me to manually recount any form of payment. I re-tallied them all, and each time the till was unequivocally less over $100.00. The head manager re-assigned me to the stock room and suggested that perhaps the numbers would balance out once all the open tills were closed and counted. I was now unsettled and worried. How would this end and would anyone believe that I had not taken money? At the end of my shift, as we stood at the door waiting for the store alarm to be engaged, the store manager casually informed me that he had found the missing money and that he had forgotten he moved money from my till to help provide ample amounts of each note to another till. This would happen on a number of subsequent occasions. 

He would later, when another of my tills was less a significant amount of money, show me how it might have been possible for me to have used heavy-duty duct tape to press against the slot reserved for notes of $20.00-or-higher, in an effort to withdraw $20.00 notes, one at a time. He was intimating, not so subtly, that I was stealing, and it deflated me.  As I watched his demonstration, I thought to and for myself, “How would I have time to steal a role of tape, open it, cut from it a square,  and press that square against the slot of my till, which was always located directly beside another cashier and under and within the clear view of the manager’s box?” Believing this was only a thought, I had not noticed that I spoke it aloud! I suppose something inside my young, now sixteen-year-old mind could not accept that hardly dissimulated accusation. The words, those questions, burst uncontrollably through their filter and out into the open. I was startled at my own boldness, and was chilled to the marrow when the manager responded wryly and with a shrug, “It’s possible.” It was impossible because I had not done it! My internal filter had found its position again, and my courage vanished. I became heavily burdened by all the insinuations.

I began to remove the thistle, bindweed, and sorrel that weeded my mind with doubt, and trust myself again as my confidence flourished like azaleas in spring. 

Darius E. Bennett, Esq.

I was seventeen when I finally applied and interviewed for a new job at another local retailer. I wondered if the interviewer called that current job, what the manager would say. Feeling like the thief who had stolen nothing, I fronted what I had come to believe were the bad facts: I had been accused of stealing, by insinuation, on multiple occasions. My face bore shame. When I explained the scenario that had been proposed to me by that first store manager, the interviewer sentenced, “He was either teaching you to steal when he showed you the trick with the tape or showing you how he stole the money. You should come work here instead.” What! She was willing to hire an accused thief (which is how I had begun to think of myself)? Relieved and thrilled, I accepted that job as a cashier at Movie Gallery. However, the seed had been planted; I somehow no longer trusted myself.

My new manager, Michelle, abidingly, consistently, and patiently re-affirmed her belief that I was an honest person and trustworthy cashier. She never wavered!  If a till was ever ‘short’ –and I would later learn that this was not unusual– Michelle found the missing money and would show me how it had mistakenly been given to another till or how a receipt was entered incorrectly causing the error. She sat with me and said, “I know this was not you. I am not worried.” I began to remove the thistle, bindweed, and sorrel that weeded my mind with doubt, and trust myself again as my confidence flourished like azaleas in spring. I had never stolen money from any till, and could not understand why I stopped trusting myself. I would later recognize that my self-believe had been seriously compromised and that my gullibility had been manipulated and abused by that first manager. Michelle’s assurances healed me, and when I think of her occasionally, I hope that she is relatively well (we are both thirty years older), that she is truly happy, that she is reasonably safe, and that life has treated her with the same full kindness with which she treated me. I was never a thief. I heeded all the advice given to me. Even still, that first manager’s constant aspersions had invaded my thinking and diminished my opinion of myself.

Through counseling I would later learn that I had established, during those younger years, a pattern of behavior that involved choosing truly barbarous words to whip myself into humility or to correct the simplest of errors and that, internally, I was turning that same severe judgment on others, most especially mates. My counselor would challenge, “What would happen if you didn’t say those harsh things to or about yourself? What does that look like?” At this question, I just sat and wondered to myself if I could be a decent human being without the accusations and insinuations I leveled on myself. “No more merciless contempt of myself or questioning of my intent?” I found the thought at once unsettling and compelling. It was freeing!

And thus began the odyssey of learning to treat others with true kindness and decency by first treating myself with kindness and decency. I began to measure my words carefully and to mete out the same thoughtfulness to myself that I had often shown to others. I gradually quieted the war in my mind and eventually surrendered the arms I had taken up against myself. I could then see people’s hurt instead of their anger, as I carefully, thoughtfully communicated, “We are not in contention.” 


Darius E. Bennett, Esq.

Darius E. Bennett is a sixteen-year licensed attorney, with twenty years of practical legal experience, including four as either a paralegal or law clerk. As an attorney in private practice, he worked in negotiations, litigation, and criminal defense within an 8-year span, and then a happenstance but fortuitous circumstance led him to eDiscovery. A former Fulbright Fellow, Mr. Bennett’s background was originally in research and writing. He has written a bi-weekly blog for EDRM on good mental health and wholeness as a professional since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and the blog is slated to begin its second season in August of 2021. Mr. Bennett recently joined the EDRM Global Advisory Council. He is especially proud of his personal library, which boasts a collection of over 300 books in either Spanish or English, touching on topics as varied as baroque art, Dalí, existentialism, the graphic novel, the experience of Black Americans as exposited through literature, the art and science of cooking and recipes, Spanish-speaking America and the effects of Spanish colonialism, contemporary art and gender theories, and over 17 dictionaries! He recently joined Ricoh-USA as a Project Manager-Digital Support.