Our words have power. Words have the power to help or hurt, build up or tear down, and perpetuate negative gossip or stop it in its tracks.
As we begin a new year, I’m once again setting the intention to speak wisely. Or as author Don Miguel Ruiz describes in his book, The Four Agreements, “Be impeccable with your word. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t take anything personally. Do your best.” (Deep breath…this is no small undertaking! And likely a lifelong journey.)
In today’s world, it’s so easy to get caught up in “negativity bias,” the human tendency to pay much more attention to the bad things that happen. Our thoughts and words tend to focus more on the negative, overpowering the positive.
I’m not talking about keeping my head in the clouds and pretending all is well when it’s not. I’m talking about taking responsibility for my part to make the world better. As a parent, wife, friend, writer and teacher, my words matter.
To support my intention to speak wisely, I explored what humans are really doing when we engage in harsh speech. And the truth is pretty ugly.
Why Do We Share Negative Gossip?
(Specifically, information and stories that humiliate, demean, or put down someone)
- We gossip to prove others wrong, and ourselves right,
- To point out defects and weaknesses in others, ignoring our own,
- To get people to take our side, creating division,
- We gossip to avoid confronting someone directly, venting to others instead,
- And lastly, we gossip to fit-in and connect with others
Why Do We Criticize Others?
(Express disapproval based on perceived faults or mistakes)
- We criticize to devalue others
- To try to make others change
- To protect our egos and place blame instead of addressing our issues
Dr. Steven Stonsey explains, “We don’t criticize because we disagree with a behavior or an attitude. We criticize because we somehow feel devalued by the behavior or attitude. Critical people tend to be easily insulted and especially in need of ego defense.”
Why is Negative Speech so Harmful to Relationships… and the World?
- Negative Speech is loaded with judgment
- It’s full of assumptions that are often wrong
- It’s subjective and often one-sided
- Harsh words have serious and lasting emotional effects
- It perpetuates negativity, resentment, and distrust
When we explore the “Why’s” of harmful speech, it’s easy to understand why society today feels divided. Harsh words are pervasive as well as an ineffective way to inspire positive change or solve problems.
Words Have Power – How Do We Practice Speaking Wisely?
Since our words have power, how do we use our words as a force of good? According to Buddhist philosophy, “Right Speech” includes abstaining from lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, and idle (empty) chatter. Sounds easy enough, right?
Um, no. Speaking wisely takes a great deal of attention, self-awareness, will power and honesty with ourselves. When we pause and look deeply at why we are about to say something, and realize it’s because of one of the ugly truths, can we refrain? Can we stay silent or say something to add more peace to the world?
So for 2020 and beyond, I intend to choose words that have a positive impact on me and others. Yes, this is a tall order that will require constant attention, a lot of sticky note reminders, and likely some mistakes. But, I’m all in to do my part…one moment, one day, one word at a time.