Words when used to hurt are like the stabs of a sword. They penetrate deep into the body and are often delivered most effectively at close quarters.
How frequently have any of us been hurt by the unintentional slight spoken by a friend and relayed to many others.
Gossip – Malicious words
Here though is the challenge how difficult do we find it to close off the gossip of others. Journalists often call it public or human interest. Think about it, do we really need to know everything about everyone? Aren’t there things in our lives that we aren’t proud of? Wouldn’t we retreat to the darkest recess we could find if someone we trusted shared those personal facts.
So the initial stab is delivered by a friend, often through unguarded speech. Those facts are repeated with an element of “context” and interpretation, my favourite precursor “can you imagine what they were thinking?” Because it gives the listener the opportunity to do just that.
This gossip or these words become harmful through repetition as each telling associates a sinister link.
Human nature implies that we all want to hear this and all give space for listening to it.
For this Thumper from Bambi had it right when he repeated his mother’s words: “If you ain’t got nothing nice to say…”
The cutting remark
Personally I found this a favourite tool as a young person. But as I became more involved with Youth Charities, supporting projects around eating disorders and mental health it was clear the cutting remark isn’t clever.
Having never considered myself cruel I thought bringing levity to a situation worked to defuse or distract. Only when working with a group of people taking charge of their lives was I made aware that my words although meant in jest, as a type of cutting comments had contributed to the agony they experienced.
A paper cut is painful, a thousand paper cuts are unbearable. So yes it appeared clever but the victim was generally the same person everyone else had a smart comment for. I always picked on the person who could intellectually compete but as time has passed I have learnt about emotional vulnerabilities.
Choose our words carefully because the cuts of a fine blade are as serious as the stabs of sword.
Try to use words with the precision of a scalpel. Look for ways to use criticism or direct personal comments to support the hearer.
Taking time to think before speaking is such an advantage. Remember the formula 2 ears, 2 eyes and 1 mouth for the ratio of times for speaking.
Knowing how our words are received is beyond us but we can reduce the danger to hearer by always ensuring our words are “seasoned with salt” and as precious as “apples of gold in silver carvings”.
We don’t get it right every-time. On Wednesday I commented flippantly about something and someone overheard and took my words seriously. They shouldn’t have been eavesdropping according to a colleague (who the comment was aimed at) but the apology for unintended offence reminded me that it is as much the setting as the audience.
So take care with the most powerful tool we have, it can start wars that last for generations or heal deep hurt. The scalpel or the sword it is very much our choice.