What You Say Can Hurt

by DavalosMcCormack on January 9, 2011

The recent shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona that has left at least six people dead – including a nine year old girl – and more than a dozen others wounded, has understandably sent people on a search for the cause. Is it too easy access to powerful weapons and ammunition or, as many are now speculating, a political climate that is increasingly polarized with each side demonizing the other so that instead of thoughtful debates we have angry confrontations, we have people yelling and screaming at each other, accusing their opponents of not being patriotic, of abandoning their beliefs and principles and country.

That’s not helped when you have politicians like Sarah Palin putting out ads with political opponents in the crosshairs of a gun sight, or having slogans like “Don’t     retreat, reload”. Put together with all her other campaign rhetoric about hunting and shooting, it sends a message that just as a moose is fair game in Alaska, so political opponents are fair game in elections.

Add to that the non-stop, hateful political chatter you find on cable TV, radio and the internet and it’s not hard to wonder why someone with an unbalanced mind would find it all too easy to draw the wrong conclusion and act accordingly, feeling their actions have been validated by the current culture.

Cause and effect

For now we don’t know what triggered the mass shooting, but what we do know is that words are powerful weapons, that they can be used to hurt people in different ways. That doesn’t just apply to hateful political speech that might inspire others to carry out acts of violence – even if that wasn’t the intention of the speaker – that also applies to all of us in our daily lives.

Think about how often someone has said something to you that pained you. It may have been a loved one, a friend, a boss, even a complete stranger on the street. The comments may have been about a mistake you made, a bad job you did, or just the fact that you weren’t paying attention as you stepped off the curb into the street. Anything can inspire some people to deliver an outpouring of criticism, anger and resentment.

I scream, you scream

Even if those comments are well-intentioned, the way they are delivered can be devastating. I’ve had bosses who would scream and yell and curse when they were upset and it was easy to ignore what they said and dismiss them as nutcases – usually because they were. But I’ve also had bosses who would take you into their office and rip into you in private, leaving you quietly devastated. If that happens often enough you start to wonder if you can do the job, so you start to second-guess yourself (never a good idea) and start making decisions based on what you thought your boss wants rather than what you think is best. That’s a sure-fire route to insanity.

Even in our personal relationships we can say things to someone we love in a way that hurts them, and makes them feel like a failure. Sometimes it’s not even what we say as much as how we say it, the tone and tenor of our voice as we critique them can be like torture that lingers long after the conversation ends.

Take it to heart

So, next time you are about to have a “difficult” conversation with someone try rehearsing it in your head first, think of what you want to say, and then think of how if you were the person going to be on the receiving end of it how you would like it to be phrased. That might help you find a new, gentler way of saying what you want to. The content and purpose of the conversation would be the same, just the method of delivery would be different.

The end result might be someone who gets the message and takes it to heart without letting it take over their mind and their life.

We may not be able to control what hateful politicians or political pundits or shock jocks say in the media, but we can control what we say and how we say it. A more polite, kind, thoughtful society begins with each of us. We can’t look to anyone else to start this movement, we have to do it ourselves.  We can start today.

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