By Janet Walgren
I love words; I believe that they are the most powerful force in the universe. Words can be gentle, comforting, reassuring instruments of peace; words can also be hard… alarming instruments of contention. I believe words properly gifted could have prevented the Virginia Tech tragedy had they only been spoken soon enough. Words are important in teaching correct principles and in conveying love or displeasure. It is not only the words we speak, but how we say what we say that determines the end result of our communication. Consider my story about making bread in my post on finding the cause of success:
“When I wanted to learn how to make whole wheat bread, I asked a friend to show me how. I asked her because her bread was so delicious and much lighter than the whole wheat bread that my other friends could make. I watched closely as my friend demonstrated how to make the bread, and then I tried to replicate her effort. My first loaf turned out like a brick. My friend just laughed; she told me that the water I used was too hot and so it had killed the yeast. She then painted flowers on my pitiful loaf of bread and gave it back to me to use as a door stop.”
It was important to remember that my failure was not because the water that “I”used was too hot; it was because “the water”that I used “was too hot.”
The emphasis on “I”places blame; the emphasis on “the water…was too hot” identifies cause. A simple sentence repeated two times with different emphasis helps the reader to understand a concept and examine their own internal communication or self-talk. As they start to realize and understand the scripts that they are telling themselves, they can analyze those scripts and free themselves of counter productive negative thoughts and unwarranted blame. This process should be taught because it is essential in building your sense of worth.
The same concept is just as important to understand in communicating with other people. And, always remember; people, be it friends, classmates, co-worker or family are the life blood of your personal happiness or misery. It doesn’t matter if you are communicating verbally or in print, how you say what you say counts. It could even save lives. Consider the implied message as you repeat this sentence, emphasizing the word that is bolded:
- “I” didn’t say you did that!
- I didn’t “say” you did that!
- I didn’t say you did “that!”
The sentences are identical; the messages very different. It is important that you become aware of the effect that your communication has on other people. Your tone or implied meaning can make the difference in your success or failure. It can make the difference between life or death.
I don’t know when the 23 year old gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, died but I do know that it was most likely years before he pulled the trigger and caused the massacre of 32 students. Rather than crying out for gun control or other legislation and pointing a finger of blame, perhaps we should look at the three fingers that are pointing back at ourselves and consider what we say and how we say it because the spirit of mankind is a fragile thing.
And, we need to teach this to our children. Perhaps we should all have this quote framed and hanging on the walls of our homes and offices, in our day-planners and our cell phone cases: “If we truly understood the awesome power of words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative.” – Betty Edie.