Last week I shared that as a child I would read inspirational messages posted by a local party center as we drove home from school each day. I was fascinated by the philosophical posts, my favorite was from Lau Tzu a mystic philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching (The Way and Its Power), published in the 3rd century. The excerpt is below:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
Last week we unpacked, “Be careful of your thoughts,” which you can read here.
Today I’d like to talk more about being careful of our words. How we say our words has a direct correlation to how we feel and in turn how we treat others. However there are some ways of speaking that destroy connection rather than build it. Being careful of our words, to me, means being intentional in what we say, speaking our truth from our hearts.
To speak our truth honestly and freely we must also remove some of our weaker conversational tools that no longer serve us. There are two tactics that I strive to limit in my own conversations and I would encourage you to do the same. I’ve expanded on these below:
Sarcasm – There’s a reason sarcasm translates so poorly between languages. At best it can be confusing at its worst it is cruel. For some of us sarcasm is a security blanket a turn of phrase that gets a cheap and quick laugh. Many of us have learned to use sarcasm to distract or deflect attention from ourselves. But when we are using our words to cut down another person or idea – we are causing harm.
Backhanded compliments and comments – these statements leave just enough room for interpretation. They are not kind or considerate but rather hurtful. These turns of phrase are passive aggressive sarcasm. These are phrases or statements that hurt and harm with kindness – comments like, “You always look lovely in that dress. I see why you wear it all the time.” This is not a compliment, this is a way of taking someone down. These comments sting and much like sarcasm they are designed to hurt.
These are statements are personal and they cut deep. If you are a person who uses backhanded compliments in regular conversation I would encourage you to stop. You are doing harm to the people you love – your family, friends. If you have an issue with someone in your circle it is far better to talk with them directly than it is to kill them with a thousand verbal lashes – because when it is your words that you use to hurt when you ask for forgiveness no one will believe you mean it sincerely.
Using our words seems to be a lost art, the ability to exchange witty banter or turns of phrase that leave others laughing without hurting is a delicate dance. And every so often we do loose our cool, we slip up and say an unkind thing. When that happens it is important to immediately call out your misstep and honestly share your feelings with the other party.
If someone’s words are hurting you, let them know that you do not appreciate their unkindness. Hopefully, this is a simple social faux pas but if it becomes a larger pattern it is completely understandable and necessary for you to distance yourself from the guilty party until they can learn to communicate kindly.
If you are someone who uses sarcasm or backhanded comments to communicate, it may be time to reconsider your approach and find a better way to express yourself. Meanness is not a good look and finding a way to share how you feel without hiding behind barbs will only serve you well in the future. You will be giving yourself, and those you love, the gift of honest and open communication. You will be giving the gift of greater intimacy and understanding because your friends and family will know that they are safe in your company. You will find far deeper connections with the people you love, now that they no longer have to hide from your harsh words. I wish you a lifetime of love and connection – use and choose your words wisely. Your words reflect not only how you see the world but impact how the world sees you.
Have you ever used sarcasm or backhanded comments to make a point? Do you use them for laughs? Or would you rather not?