Go word watching

I’m using a song to take a message from:

“You can be amazing; you can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.”

This is the song Brave. So as you can guess this article is about words. (The title’s a bit of a giveaway.) Ever feel like words are mostly empty these days? They used to mean so much; now we call them cliché. Well, it’s not that words have lost their power, but that we have lost our hearing.

Listening well takes a good deal of practice, and a lot of people prefer not to take time to do it.

In frustrated moments I have blurted out things plainly (I thought) that I would much rather have only hinted at, but no one heeded the hints. Sadly, people have seldom (I won’t say never) heeded plain speaking either.

Hysteria: An uncontrollable emotional outburst, as from fear or grief, often characterized by irrationality, laughter, weeping etc.

I think hysteria is born of frustrated silence. From unbalanced people. Like Miss Amelia in “A little princess.” Let’s hope we won’t get to that point or if we do that we won’t park there. Even if you have, there’s a way out.

Words are weapons, and like any weapon they can be handled with reserve and control and skill, or maniacally by an ill-trained  or cruel person. Watch you words. This is told to us from a young age. By our parents, our teachers, our extended family, even our pastors. But they don’t always tell us why. Or how. So we end up confused and unsure what situations call for words and what ones call for silence.

I sometimes suffer from allergies that affect my sinuses. When this happens my ears can get plugged or drain uncomfortably. I can still hear, but the funny feeling distracts me and makes me fall out of it. How many of us have this with our mental hearing? We hear, but it’s like we aren’t fully present or something is plugging our understanding. We’re easily distracted.

But I am tired of only hearing about problems, and I’m sure you are too; let’s move on.

The thing is, no one tells us what to watch our words for. As an early adolescent I was constantly told I was rude and disrespectful. Often I had no idea. People would then tell me they were trying to help, but they wouldn’t really help. They explained my problem but were short of any solution other than for me to change my attitude. That was one thing I needed to do, but even after that I continued to blunder my words. I wrote stuff back then, and my writing suffered from lack of tact, taste, and detail. I realized this eventually. But while everyone could explain–over explain–my problem, no one could tell me a good way to resolve it. It’s looking back at this that makes me so glad there’s a God who cares about us. No better Therapist. Thanks to a lot of good reading–and that includes my Bible–I finally started to have a clue. It’s been slow; I’m not naturally a person considerate of the effect of my careless words. But a few simple rules would help.

Firstly. Something someone should’ve told me years ago (and I should’ve listened if they did) is to consider how I would like that said to me. This is fairly easy. If you’ve any imagination, picture yourself in the other person’s position both emotionally and physically. Reading a lot of books by various authors is helpful; one that’s helped me a lot is the Ever After High series by Shannon Hale. Because it covers two people from opposite perspectives yet though one is shown to be more clear-thinking, both have flaws and good qualities that make you respect them both even when you don’t agree. The web series the books are based on is also a great study of diverse characters. Another good read is “Till we have faces” by C. S. Lewis. But virtually any decent book provides multiple perspectives if you only look. Another good idea is to practice sympathizing even with people you like and understand.

This rule is often given as the best and greatest key to communication, but actually it is only the first step. As Stephen R. Covey put it, “Seek first to understand then to be understood.”

Secondly. Explain yourself. ( I must put a disclaimer here; this next step only works in certain situations. I would not try it in a high stress environment. Been there, and it never works. Unless with extremely mature people–apply step one in these circumstances. People often don’t mean what they say when they’re upset.) I have had to use trial and error in learning to do this. You probably will too. But I have a tip: be concise. The best trick I know for that is to think out your idea or complaint 2 or 3 times privately or with a third party, before bringing it to the person in question. I journal it. Also never explain something when you’re angry. It’s okay to be emotional. But as soon as anger comes in, reason weakens. I know–it feels so good to rant, but that is better done in private.

Choose your words carefully. Watching your words is about watching not what you mean (intend), but what you convey. too often I’ve meant to compliment and conveyed an insult. People have also hurt my feelings when they meant to be playful. Also, you can mean strength and convey anger. Or mean caution and convey fear. People read words, and read into words, differently. Sometimes it is not your fault. But a little extra thought might go along way in explaining. Know who you’re talking to. My dad appreciates clever humor with sincerity, my mom likes straight but gentle talk. I like energetic but affectionate communication. Each of us can easily misunderstand the other if we don’t consider.

Thirdly. But watching you words goes even beyond that. Sometimes you will have to say what nobody, not even yourself, wants to hear. You’ll be under peer pressure, and it’s so easy to frame our words into the most tolerant phrasing we can. Or, if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, you might overstate everything. Looking back, I rarely like that. I prefer grace seasoned with salt. a grace-filled word is like an apple of gold in a setting of silver. A valuable commodity in a rare situation. And the richer your words are the more of such situations you have. “If a situation is tarnished from ill-treatment in the past, that calls for even more care in the present. A family situation is a good example. You can hit a sore spot, but if you keep your head you just might smooth it out. “A gentle word can break a bone,” is another proverb. That sounds bad, but you’ve likely heard about necessary breaks, or that broken bones can heal back stronger than before.

A note on this: Playing off people’s emotions can be a low trick. Especially in America with our constant advertising. But some emotions are appropriate to big things. And it’s more scary or sad if you can’t evoke any than if you can. A good rule of thumb might be if you haven’t felt what you’re evoking, then it’s probably manipulation and hypocrisy.

In summary, watch you words for inconsiderateness; watch your words for clarity; and watch  your words for sincerity. (Which means to be without guile, without cover up of a blemish.) But the Bible puts it this way: guard your mouth. A guard keeps out threats and keeps in threats. It also makes threats if necessary. Tone can be everything as we all know. I hope these three rules help you. I know I need them myself–Natasha.


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