We all know the saying, sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me — and from a young age we were led to believe its true too.
Yet those of us who’ve been on the receiving end of names and spiteful words will testify to that maxim being untrue.
Words can hurt.
What people say can harm us.
And worse still, what others say can have lasting impact on our lives.
The little girl in the superstore
The potential damage that words can cause came into stark reality during a recent trip to a local superstore.
Having collected most of the items we needed – cereal, milk, fruit and vegetables – I skillfully maneuvered my way through the isles before getting to the checkout.
As I approached the checkout, stood in line, and began to unload the contents of the trolley onto the conveyor belt, I heard a woman shout at the top of her voice, “You’re so stupid!”
With the other fifty or so shoppers queuing and paying for items, this grabbed my attention. And as I looked across the isle I saw that she was shouting at a spirited little girl, no older than 6 years old.
“You’re a stupid little girl!” she bellowed again. And with this, the girl visibly shrunk within herself, clearly humiliated by the woman’s outcry.
In that moment, I was angry and felt a deep sense of compassion for the girl.
My anger soon turned to a compulsion to address the woman — to express empathy by acknowledging the challenges of parenting — but to also make a plea for her to consider the impact of her words.
So I did. In the privacy of the car park I politely beckoned to her and requested to say a few words. I was pleased that she gave a few seconds of her time.
Yet, although I sensed a reluctance to acknowledge her actions, I hoped — for the sake of her children — that she’d consider the power of her words.
Stop to consider your words
Our words are powerful — having the potential for irreparable destruction or great comfort. Knowing this, its important that we learn to THINK before we speak.
In other words we need to consider whether what we’re about to say is:
- Truthful – is it evidenced based?
- Helpful – will it be useful in moving the other person towards becoming a better version of themselves
- Inspiring – will it lift the other persons spirit?
- Necessary – does it actually need to be said?
- Kind – is it motivated by a desire to do the other person good?
I don’t know about you, but I know first hand the damage words can have, for as a child, I too experienced being called stupid.
What we say to others matters.
Our words have the potential to shape lives.
And that’s why we each need to THINK before we speak.
How are you using your words and what impact do you think they’re having?
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