Words as Poison
A girlfriend of mine went into business with ‘her new love’. After a few
years, she became increasingly restless as she had very little social
contact and was finding the work mind numbingly boring. She explained
to her partner that she was seriously thinking about going to University
with the view of pursuing a more stimulating or satisfying career.
He responded with, “Don’t be bloody stupid, you didn’t even complete
high school. You are thirty years old and even if you did get a degree no
one would employ you. When you are over thirty, they expect you to
have years of work experience.”
Before she could protest with the tiny little amount of confidence that she
still had, he continued, “Anyway, who would answer the phones here? I
can’t do everything myself, you know”.
Years passed. She drank more, said less and slowly disappeared into his
The year she turned fifty, she packed her bags and fled into the night
after yet another screaming argument.
Years of anger and resentment can be hugely motivating. Through sheer
determination she picked herself up and charged into that University like
a woman possessed. She didn’t care if she was too old or too stupid. All
that mattered was that she would prove him wrong.
Well, of course, she excelled. Work? You bet. She loves her new job,
earns great money, thrives on intelligent conversation, owns her own
home and has just booked an overseas holiday.
Like so many others though, she acknowledges that those words, “Don’t
be bloody stupid” are poisonous.
The Unspoken Word
Poisonous words are sometimes meant to sting, sometimes meant to
maim, but the unspoken word can be just as injurious or deadly, although
quite often it is purely carelessness. Sometimes we allow our own self-
consciousness to gag us. Sometimes it’s just political correctness or
perhaps even fear of rebuttal or offence.
Of course, it is very unlikely that people are going to be offended by a
well intended group of words, yet we still hold so much back. How often
have we reflected:
I wish that I had told her…
I wish that I had known that she had misunderstood what I meant…
Or, I should have spoken up, but I didn’t want to cause a scene.
Strangers and Invisible People
Perhaps we are unreasonably nervous or suspicious of strangers really
believing that they are potential threats. Somehow we have all become
caught up with appearances and making our judgments based on how
people look. Quite often, we decide that they wouldn’t be interested in
anything we have to say, or perhaps more precisely, we wouldn’t be
interested in anything that they have to say.
It seems to me that there are many people with social stigmas attached to
them for absolutely no reason at all, those of us who are desperately
lonely and disregarded by society in a cruel and consistent stream of
indifference. There are people who have had to resort to acting as if they
were invisible because the world treats them as though they are.
When you treat someone like they are invisible, you are using your
silence as word poison.
Handicapped people are neither invisible nor necessarily deaf or mute.
Blind people, dwarfs, cripples, and those who are retarded, obese, short,
unattractive, shy or elderly are not invisible people.
The guy who washes your car or weeds your garden is not invisible. The
skin colour or religious belief of a person does not make them invisible.
There are many people in the world today who will go to bed tonight and
cry out, “What’s wrong with me – Why don’t I matter?” And you may
answer them, “It’s because I deem you invisible”.
Maybe we are all so good mannered that we have become confused by
our belief that we must not intrude or invade anyone’s personal space.
Maybe we are so concerned with minding our own business that we have
forgotten to mind anyone’s business.
I was speaking with a doctor not long ago. He told me that he would
estimate that almost fifty percent of his patients did not have any physical
reasons for being unwell. He admitted that in his early years of being a
GP he would be slightly irritated by or dismissive of people whom, he
considered to be hypochondriacs.
I can only wonder at the many millions of elderly people who have
nowhere to go and no one to speak with, or more accurately, no one to
care about them other than their doctor.
It is not just the elderly either - it’s right across the board.
Perhaps in some cases the illness or pain is imaginary. We can only
speculate. It’s very possible that the pain is real or the disease may very
well be bought on by long-term loneliness, sadness and a desperate
need for attention or kindness.
Real or imagined, the point is that we are surrounded by countless
numbers of people who are desperately craving recognition. Surely, as a
member of the human race, we can do better than to simply offer a
Medicare card, a fifteen minute appointment or a bottle full of
We often read in the papers about the huge costs and pressure our
medical systems are straining under. We complain about the high costs
of medical insurance and the long waiting lists for hospital beds. We find
it staggering to hear figures quoted in regard to anti depressants,
painkillers and sleeping pills.
Don’t you think it’s absurd that our doctors, psychiatrists, pharmacists
and medical systems are functioning to a large degree just to say, “I
acknowledge you and you matter.”?
A friend of mine introduced me to a very good friend of his whom he had
known for more than twenty years. On our way home, I commented on his
friend’s brain tumour and the concerns he had about his treatment. My
friend was shocked and said that he didn’t know anything about his friend’
s brain tumour. He said, “How come people tell you all this stuff? Why did
he tell you and yet he didn’t confide in me?”
He went on to point out a number of conversations I have had with
people and the vast amount of personal information that they had offered
Oh, I can assure you, I am not the kind of person who goes around
interrogating people, nor am I a warm and fuzzy, caring do-gooder who
extracts deep and meaningfuls from strangers. It is true that people tend
to be candid with me and I seem to attract people who seem to need to
tell me their stories.
It’s certainly not because I have all of the answers nor am I the most
sensitive soul around. It is this – I listen. I listen with attention and I listen
to what is not being said too. I am always honest. I would never offer
anything that was insincere. People will sense insincerity at a hundred
paces. I try not to make judgments. If I offer advice, it is without any
insistence or expectation that a person should agree to follow it. I offer
opinions, options and possibilities, never demands. More often than not, I
simply listen and allow the person to express themselves in their own way
and at their own speed.
People usually know their own answers anyway, they just need someone
to let them feel safe and give them an opportunity to be heard. It’s
another interpretation of ‘You Matter’.
I also learned a long time ago that people who need to discuss sensitive
issues will offer a toned down, light-hearted, or very basic or obscure
introduction in order to get a feel for your response before they let you
see behind the veils. They want to get a feel for your honesty, sensitivity,
integrity and discretion before they venture into exposing raw nerves.
Another example of word healing is humour. Not everyone can share
sensitive issues with their heart on their sleeve. Many people find crying
uncomfortable or humiliating. The old saying of, “Many a truth is said in
jest” is very true for many of us. Again, it gets back to hearing what is not
Often I hear people recounting atrocious stories about devastating
situations but they exaggerate or dramatise it to such a degree that it
sounds like a funny story. Humour is in a class of its own in word healing.
When I am speaking with someone who is offering humour as an
expression of despair, I tend to keep within the same vein. Although the
conversation is deadly serious, maintaining the light-heartedness or the
playfulness of the conversation, is just as effective and healing as
something more profound or serious.
The other thing about humour as medicine is that we seem to have
forgotten how uplifting and joyful humour is. We hardly ever play
anymore. Since I decided to actively use word healing in my daily life I
have had so much fun with people. I am actively cheeky and provocative
these days. I find myself deliberately throwing jokes or light banter
around wherever I go.
Although I have lived in this town for a few years, it has really only been
in the past year or so that I have met my neighbours and shopkeepers. I
now know the names of most of them and most of them know mine. I have
made a conscious decision that every person I interact with should be left
in a better position by having encountered me. Originally, I did this as a
bit of a test just to prove to myself that it could be done. I hadn’t expected
to be so personally rewarded and uplifted by their responses.
The world has become a playground and all the kids are being bought
back to life. Everyone has been so desperate for someone to come back
and ask them to play again.
I have also extended my word healing into other areas of my life. When I
receive good service I email or phone the company to say, “Thank You”. I
elaborate on why I appreciated the service. Instead of sending a quick
and impersonal email, I make sure I address the person by name and
sign my name at the end. I used to treat email recipients like they were a
part of the machinery.
Years ago I became fed-up with shoddy workmanship, bad service and
deceitful advertising. I felt ripped off and cheated so often, that the lion
within me roared. I decided that I had had enough. I became consumer
informed, assertive, critical and cynical. In some cases I was actually
smug, confrontational and intimidating.
We have all become more assertive and consumer informed and this is a
good thing. Many companies really do need to re-think many of the new
quality control and customer service practices of recent years. But have
we gone so far off the scale that we are becoming hostile? I have noticed
on many occasions just how rude and aggressive we consumers have
become. It seems to me that it has become commonplace to treat staff
with arrogance, aggression, indifference and superiority.
When did it become okay to scream abuse at cashiers, slam phones
down or threaten litigation? Too often the abuse gets personal and
downright cruel, we have become overly sensitive and precious about the
most insignificant things.
We are very quick to demand to speak to the manager, write letters to
consumer affairs or seek legal advice. Perhaps in some cases this is
necessary, but does it need to be our first line of fire?
Of course, we are within our rights to refuse faulty goods and to
challenge inferior service or workmanship. But, is it in balance with our
right to praise, recommend and promote good service? We seem very
quick to mumble thanks and very long to bemoan and berate. Do we
elaborate on why we are pleased with a service, do we write letters
naming names, would you wait ‘on hold’ to get your compliments through?
Perhaps it’s time we reconsidered our attitudes to the people around us.
Have we unconsciously stopped seeing people in the workplace as
people at all? So much of our business these days is done by phone,
internet and other technical or mechanical means, that it may be easy to
forget that somewhere at the other end is a real person, just like us.
To be on the receiving end of a verbal attack can be shattering. Long
after the altercation has passed the recipient will feel affected. It really is
a psychic attack. We should all be very careful before we spray each
other with this type of word poison.
Slight shift in Attitude
Since making this shift and reversing my attitude, I have met the most
fascinating people. I seem to be laughing everyday and finding the most
extraordinary kindnesses, interesting stories and gentle, loving souls.
The most dynamic thing about being a word healer is that it carries so far
and wide. The simple statement or acknowledgement you give may or
may not save or take a life – but it could. Maybe you will get an
occasional grunt or rebuttal, but for the most part, you will light up a life.
That may be the one that carries your medicine to a place you will
probably never even know about. A place where someone, somewhere
will hear the message: I See You – You Matter
Copyright Sonya Green
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How your words can make or break a person.
Words can be Medicine and words can be Poison
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