Monday, April 21, 2014

Semantics: Using My Words for Good

I love words.  I love how useful they are and how sometimes I can use them to get my way.  Hehehehe-maniacal-laugh!

Just kidding.

Words are pretty useful.  They can be tricky and powerful and sometimes downright scary.  Today I realized that with just the twist of a phrase, I can go from sounding like a kind, compassionate person to sounding like a total jerk.

Picture it:  You and some friends are standing in the parking lot after school chatting for a few minutes before taking your kids home.  One of the women recently twisted her ankle while taking her kids for a walk, so she stands there with the aid of the crutches she pulled out of the attic.  Someone walks up and says, "Hey, What did you do to your ankle?!"  

photo credit: Graham Ballantyne via photopin cc

Oh, yes, a familiar scene.  And usually the "victim" feels like she has to explain herself, accounting for whatever clumsiness exists in her gene-pool.  There is an embarrassment factor here that exists and it's unfortunate.  Don't we feel dumb often enough already?

I'm not trying to be Sensitive-Sally here.  I don't want you to start over-analyzing everything people say to you.  Most of the things we say are meant as harmless attempts to communicate.  On the other hand, I am a fan of using our words for good.  So what if we twisted this question just a little?  What if instead, the newcomer walks up and says, "What happened to your ankle?"
Not "What did YOU do to your ankle..."
Just - "What happened?"

This morning at work my dad and I were moving gates around, and all the sudden he was holding his thumb and making that "Oh crap" face.  So I said, "What did you do to your thumb?"  There was a tone that came out with that question indicating maybe somehow he could have avoided this injury.  Like I might as well have added, "...Loser."  But at the time, I didn't even know what had happened.  So why does my question come out implicating him in the misfortune?

What tone do I set when I talk to my kids and my husband?  Do I hand-out guilt when I talk to people about their hardships?

It's probably easier for all of us when we feel that there is someone to blame when bad things happen.  I think we have a tendency to want to find a very direct reason for mishaps - big ones and little ones.  But often times things just happen and we can't explain it and it's not necessary to make someone feel that their current circumstances were avoidable if they had just ________.

I gave up guilt for Lent.  It was great.  Turns out God is not interested in me carrying around and wallowing in the guilt that he already paid for.  Treating myself with more compassion and kindness has been nice.  Thinking maybe I'll be more intentional about speaking to others with compassion too.  'Cause words can be pretty powerful.  And I'd like to use them for good.  Want to join me?

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