Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Choose our words the way we plant a garden – thoughtfully and with an eye to beauty

Words hurt and words heal.

World peace begins with peace in the family. As a therapist, I’ve heard many adults recite hurtful words they heard decades ago from a parent or sibling. Care in speaking to children requires a degree of self-possession, the ability to see past the blind emotion of the moment to the needs of the child. Good words come from that greater vision.

For example, words of extreme praise can do wonders for the injured ego of a child or spouse. Sometimes it’s helpful to give words to what is usually left unspoken. “I appreciate what you did for me. I’m happy that you’re with me.” Simple, direct and felt words of praise, appreciation and gratitude often go unsaid, when they could be a handy means of healing. Words hurt and words heal.

Every day offers opportunities to say words of encouragement and recognition. No matter how strong or successful we are, we all need such words. But often they may seem unnecessary. My rule is: if the thought occurs to me to say something supportive, I say it. You can never speak too often in praise and appreciation. You can also receive that praise, when it comes, gracefully – with words. “Thank you for saying that. I need to hear that.”

Everywhere today marriage partners and children are in distress. I have no doubt that one simple solution would be to offer them words of support. When used with care, language can be therapeutic. Even, and maybe especially, when a person is being difficult and belligerent, words of understanding and affirmation, realistic and felt, can often help.

Our physical world is polluted with dangerous chemicals, but our language, too, suffers its own kind of pollution. This is an ecological problem that we can solve in our personal lives by learning about language and using it with care and imagination. The flow of our words could be as clear and fresh as the cascade of an unpolluted, free-flowing stream. We could then choose our words the way we plant a garden – thoughtfully and with an eye to beauty.

Thomas Moore is is former Catholic monk and author of many books including Care of the Soul and Original Self.