Words as Balm - Words as Pain

My mother, bless her, gave me many solid ideals upon which to base my life. One of her favorite bits of advise was, "If you don't have something good to day, don't say anything."

You see, words, regardless of what the nursery rhyme states, do hurt. They can literally maim another person's spirit, integrity, and mind. Alternately, words can be the balm that heals the spirit, builds the integrity and comforts the mind.

While we may have all the intentions in the world of saying something good, I have learned that sometimes, what we say can either be mistaken or said in a careless way that unintentionally hurts others.

I know this first hand, because, as my mother told me, I had chronic foot and mouth disease (F&M)...in other words, I was constantly putting my foot in my mouth by saying things that I shouldn't.

As an extremely inquisitive child, I wanted to know why people had crutches, why our skin was different colors, why some people didn't have clean clothes, etc. With the innocence of a child, I would ask my questions in stage whispers that must have made my mother wish she was invisible. However, she would patiently explain the answer in as hushed tones as possible, all the while giving me her "Do Not Say Another Word!" look.

I thought for the longest time, that I was the only one with F& M disease, however, as we have seen in the news quite often of late, every human, regardless of education, status, or nationality, has the tendency. No matter how much we try, we have all suffered a bout or two of this malady. Consequently, it seems to be problematic especially when our guards are down, when we relax and when we try to have fun. As I said, we all have the tendency.

Over the past fifteen years, I have found two "tools," if you will, to keep the dreaded F&M disease from rearing its ugly head in my life: mindfulness and critical thinking.

Living my life contemplatively, helps me to be more aware of what I say and do. Being mindful of where I am in time and space as well as those around me keeps me from being "thoughtless" in my speech.

Critical thinking helps me to see around the corners of life. It gives me answers to questions like, "What happens if...?" "Who will this touch?" "Will this statement or action come back to haunt me?"

Several years ago, I heard Dr. Maya Angelou speak. She was lecturing on life, on teaching and on the subtle oppression of others through our words and actions. One of the suggestions she made was that when we heard someone say something disparaging do something.

Dr. Angelou suggested that you can, if you are comfortable with doing so, ask the person not to use whatever word or phrase offended you. (This can be done with a loving heart; it does not have to be confrontational.) Or, you can act - look at your watch, say in a loud voice, "Oh my, I was supposed to be in Kalamazoo twenty minutes ago!" and leave. Do not simply follow the crowd and do nothing. In addition, don't get caught up in the "blame game."

Hand with stretched index finger

Remember that when pointing fingers at people who slip and make public comments that they immediately wish they had not made, we should realize that as we point, there are three other fingers pointing directly at us!

During these last days of our Celebration of Reading, let us look at the words we use, in our writing, in our speech. Are we blessing the world or condemning it? Are we speaking words of hope, or contributing to despair? Are we creating moments of peace or do our words bring us into conflict with others?

Foot & Mouth disease is much like a cold. It can spread if you don't take action to stop it. The choice belongs to us all.


Anonymous said…
Hello Linda,

I'll have to remember that line: "Oh my, I was supposed to be in Kalamazoo twenty minutes ago!"

Sometimes when I am uncomfortable, yet not wanting to be confrontational, I say nothing. This is a good one, still takes courage...lol

Thanks for your wise words!

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