Any parent with more than one child knows the “Gotcha” game. The kids are strapped safely into the back seat, and Child A begins poking Child B, Child B screams about the unfairness of it while poking back at Child A, poking turns into swatting, and swatting turns into hitting and ……yeah, it’s a mess. Each child is equally outraged by the indignity of the poke while also doing the exact same thing.

This week has felt like a massive game of Gotcha in pretty much every area of my life.

It certainly occurred on a national scale, as the horror show at the nation’s Capitol played out. While flipping through news stations with every possible political bent (in a desperate search for unbiased reporting), I kept hearing the same message, “Well….THEY started it! THEY poked first!” You can insert “they” with the name of any opposing political party.

The Gotcha game dominated my Facebook threads this week. People I love and care about were using the cover of seemingly kind and strong stances to also take an underhanded jab at a family member or colleague with differing views. While most would scroll past after a quick click on the little heart or thumbs up icon, those with just a smidge of backstory know it was meant to poke a chosen one (or few). The post was a Trojan Horse of hurt. Gotcha.

A parent and child I work closely with, working on communicating without arguing, quickly escalated a missing homework assignment discussion into cuts and wounds so deep they hopefully will be forgiven, but never forgotten.

“Did you mean to slice your mom wide open with that?” I asked. The teen looked at me, horrified, and said, “NO! I would never want to hurt her like that”. Well, you did. You got her, and you got her good. Gotcha.

The Gotcha game’s greatest power lies in it’s ability to pull people away from real issues. It becomes more about being “right”, being vindicated, getting the last word, the last jab, than it is about any form of true resolution.

Passive-aggressiveness is not a pretty look on any of us. When we write a social media post that is benign to most but will cut to the quick for a certain intended reader, we’re putting on a passive-aggressive cloak and strutting around proudly, thinking we are so clever and subtle, and yet we march around like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Not a good look, indeed.

When the intention of our words are to poke another, we are so caught up in the Gotcha game that our words become weapons. We need to be careful that we don’t think we are part of any possible form of solution when we, too, are wrecklessly weilding weapons.

The Gotcha game’s danger is it delays us from focusing on justice and resolution. If we are poking, we are not healing. If we are poking, we are living in the past and not solution-oriented. If we are Hell-bent on one last jab, getting the last word, we are not moving forward.

We need to use our words. We MUST stand up against injustices whether they occur in a zoom session, the kitchen table, or the seat of world democracy. When we dress them up in thinly-veiled hostility, we dishonor the very principles we are trying to defend or represent.

We should be bold and confident enough in what we believe that we don’t need to play games with it. It dishonors the very things we say we represent.

I want my “weapon” to be peace, compassion, and responsible social impact. I want my words to be used to unite, not to divide. I want my words to be used to resolve conflicts, not keep them flamed. The Gotcha game stops when one person decides to not poke back, and use principled action instead.

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