Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Choosing Our Words

I used to work for a woman who was very well respected, very accomplished but also a wee bit intimidating.  Ok, that's an understatement. This woman could darn near call down the wrath of God with just one look of dissatisfaction. A stern reprimand from her equaled a big, fat, sucker-punch in the stomach and claimed many victims.

(Or so I hear. I was a total overachiever who not only respected her as a professional, but genuinely liked her as a person, so I absolutely made it my goal to not ever have to experience that specific tone....more than once. Once was absolutely terrifying and certainly enough for this good girl. )

Point being - her words and tone could knock the wind out of someone.

Words are more powerful than we often realize. Kind words can often bring us out of the worst of moods and leave us uplifted. Funny sentiments can leave us laughing for weeks to come. Harsh words can deflate and hateful words can destroy. I believe it was Buddha who said: Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.

Many times we don't even realize that our words are unintentionally hurting someone. Ways we speak to our children when we are irritated can cause them to momentarily doubt our interest in them. Sarcastic digs spoken in friendly jest can be misinterpreted as true feelings. Seemingly innocent sharing of gossip can devastate a friendship. A white lie can snowball out of control. We didn't set out to hurt someone's feelings, we didn't mean to bruise an ego, we didn't do it on purpose - none the less, our uncontrolled words wound.

There are also deliberate words that are spoken out of malice with the sole purpose to cause pain or stir up dissension or deflate an ego. I can remember proclaiming "I hate you!" to my mother in my anger, hoping to make her feel bad. I recall mean girls in High School who would make snide comments loud enough for their target to hear. A bad mouthing coworker have made many an unhappy workplace.  Marriages have ended over insults. These are words that we choose to say - intentionally, maliciously with complete disregard to our better judgement and total knowledge of the repercussions. Yet...we say them anyway.

This past weekend I received an email in which the words knocked the wind out of me, or punched me right in the middle of this unseemly soft tummy of mine. Those words made me sick. They made me cry. They made me angry. They left me confused and disheveled. It was mixture of the unintentional and of the deliberate causing so much injury. Everything about it was completely unnecessary.

I resisted the urge to sit in a dark room and drown myself into a peanut butter ice cream induced stupor. Instead I prayed, listened to music, cleaned furiously and counted down the minutes until my most trusted confident returned home to comfort me in my sorrow. He listened. We hugged. He fashioned his words to make me feel better. He designed deliberate comments to make me laugh. He watched me eat ice cream and finally, pried the carton of Velvet out of my hands.

I woke up the next morning feeling not so disastrous and having a better, more accurate perspective. I also felt very convicted to examine my own words, my own tone and my own actions. I sought forgiveness for the many, many times I have failed to control my tongue. I need to be cautious of the way I speak to my children or the tone I use with my husband. I need to resist the urge to share a bit of gossip, or even listen to it for that matter.  I need to put some thought into my dialogue before just spouting off at the mouth or acting on impulse.

As I was reflecting, I remembered the following piece of advice I came across a few years ago.

“Before you speak, think: Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?”


If each and every one of us took the time to embrace this, can you imagine the impact that would have on the overall atmosphere of our family, our work, our churches, our neighborhoods, our lives?

Yes, Buddha, It COULD change the world.