The Words We Choose
Interpersonal communication is something we do every day. We should already be pros at it! Yet sometimes, it can be either ineffective or unexpectedly deviated. How’s so? These are some things I’ve learned so far:
Words have creative powers.
Our spoken or written words matter more than we think. Positive words have the capability to create a wonderful conversation. They have the potential to encourage others, lift their spirits, -even help heal someone’s brokenness. If we are not mindful, our words can do just the opposite. We can hurt and put others down. Undoubtedly, we’ve all used them both ways, most probably.
The toothpaste story: A great lesson.
I heard this story of a Middle School Teacher who brought a tube of toothpaste for each of her students. She gave them a paper plate and told them to squeeze the toothpaste out. So they did. Afterward, the Teacher asked her students to put the toothpaste back into the tube. Inevitably, nobody could. Then the Teacher said the toothpaste was like our words. Once we say them, we can never take them back. If we aren’t careful we can blurt out hurtful, humiliating words -that still hurt after we’ve apologized. That day she taught her class to choose kind words when we speak to others.
Everyone may interpret our words differently.
I recently read that the meaning of what we say is in people and not in words. Sometimes when we communicate, we might assume everyone will understand it in the same way. Truth is, words hold unique meanings for people, directly related to their past experiences, perceptions, understanding, and background. Regardless if they all spoke the same language. Also, words do not just shape our perception; they’re also symbols of thought. The exact phrases will bring up different pictures for each of us in our minds. Being mindful of these conflicting interpretations might save us from a few misunderstandings and hurt feelings. So how do we bridge the gap to better communication?
Choosing our words wisely toward others.
If our words contain hurt and disrespect, they’ll be like daggers into someone’s soul -sometimes taking a lifetime to heal. If our words hold kindness instead, people might not always remember everything we said, but they’ll remember how we made them feel. If our words convey love and gratitude, we’ll also communicate those emotions to others long after the conversation ends. Proverbs 18:21 says that the tongue can speak words that bring life or death. Which one will it be?
Sometimes there are no words.
There are these other times when our words fall short. We have nothing left to say to someone. The times when we lose something -or worse, someone. It seems that words don’t do our feelings justice. At times like these, maybe just being quietly present could be our most sincere conversation.
What words do we “say” to ourselves?
The Persian Poet Hafiz once said: “The words you speak become the house you live in.” What did he mean by this? Our words and thoughts create the foundation blocks on which our life constantly builds. They will either “build” a positive house conducive to meaningful experiences or highjack our best intentions creating adverse outcomes.
We are today the sum of everything we’ve been saying and thinking about ourselves. Imagine if we could course-correct that by starting over. By speaking to ourselves more positively using more compassionate words! Just like we’d talk to a friend. It might help us create and live a happier life. One that we love.
The gift of a second chance.
With the right words, and the right mindset, who knows? We might even have a chance to mend an estranged relationship. View a conflict from another perspective to gain clarity. It’s never too late to start choosing our words more mindfully so we can improve this art we call communication.
All my best,
Maria A. Mansfield