The next time you’re moved to share your thoughts, whether it’s with your teenager, neighbor or a post on Facebook, consider the content of the intended message. Ask yourself three little questions: Are my words true? Are they kind? Are they necessary?
Those questions aren’t new. Depending on the source, they’re attributed to Socrates, Buddha or the Indian guru Sai Baba. Regardless of who first spoke them, they are an invaluable road map for wise and thoughtful speech.
In his book “The Four Agreements,” author Don Miguel Ruiz wrote, “The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby create the events in your life.”
Our words have a direct impact on others. We can make someone soar with a heartfelt compliment: “I always look forward to eating in your home. This place is so welcoming!”
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Or we can send them crashing into a mental abyss with a thoughtless or mean-spirited comment: “You’re never going to amount to anything. I wish you’d never been born.” Even when we’re not the direct target, we feel anxious and vulnerable when we hear hurtful words. We realize we could be the next victim.
Our words also affect how other people think. A recent study by Chris S. Crandall, a social psychology professor at the University of Kansas who specializes in the study of prejudice, found that subjects felt more comfortable expressing prejudice toward the specific groups that had been publicly disparaged by President Donald Trump during his campaign. These findings match previous research that shows “people are highly responsive to their community’s accepted displays” of prejudice.
Of course, we can’t control what comes out of others’ mouths. But we can commit to speaking in the truest, most thoughtful way we can. That’s how we can change the world, one sentence at a time.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to practice thoughtful speech
- Pause before speaking. Take some deep breaths. Pull together your ideas. If you don’t yet feel prepared to talk, say, “I’ll get back to you later.”
- Avoid hurtful words and phrases. Speech patterns are habitual. Remove name-calling, expletives and put-downs from your verbal arsenal.
- Don’t speak when you’re angry. When you’re hot under the collar, you want to inflict physical and emotional pain on the nearest target. Instead, back away from the situation. Use de-escalating tactics. Agree to disagree.
- Never spread lies or rumors. The truth may be open to interpretation. But lies and slander are not acceptable.
- Know when to be silent. Mom was right. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
- Be kind even in difficult times. Not every conversation centers around a pleasant topic. In those potentially tense moments, it’s even more important to choose your verbiage carefully.
- Quickly correct mistakes. We all make verbal blunders. Recognize the faux pas ASAP. Admit the wrongdoing and express remorse for having misspoken.