“Did you know jerks are very strong?” I had just picked Daniel up from day camp and we were waiting for a train to cross the road. I put the truck into PARK.
“Jerks,” Daniel said. “They have lots of muscles.” I didn’t see the connection.
“Why do you think that?” I asked. Daniel saw a show on television. There was this guy who could lift lots of weights. He was really strong and everyone called him a big jerk.
“Jerks are strong and nerds are smart,” he continued. “The nerds on TV are really smart.” For roughly the six thousandth time I thought about tossing the television out with the trash.
“Well,” I started, “nerds and jerks may be those things, but they are other things too.” Daniel sat up.
I could feel the slippery slope underneath me. “Let’s just say they aren’t nice words. Usually people call each other ‘jerks’ and ‘nerds’ to be mean.”
“But I wouldn’t be mean,” Daniel said. “I would be nice when I said they were a jerk.” I had a picture in my mind of how that would play out and it wasn’t pretty.
“Daniel, sometimes a word is just a bad word,” I said. “Even if you don’t mean it that way, people would still be hurt if you called them that.”
Daniel mulled that over. “What if I gave them a big smile?”
I tried another tack. “If you think someone is smart, just say, ‘I think you’re very smart.’ If someone is very strong, just tell them, ‘I think you are very strong.’ Most of the time it’s best to just be direct.” The engine of the train rattled the street as it passed us in reverse. I put the truck into DRIVE and started ahead.
“I guess I will just say they are very strong,” Daniel finally decided. “But inside my brain I will say they are a nice jerk.”
I nodded. “I think that’s how most of us do it.”