Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 16, 2002
Words can wound, so speak with care
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Maybe I've overheard one too many inane cell phone calls that reveal way too much information.
Maybe I've overheard too many prying personal questions or inconsiderate comments from folks who are barely acquaintances.
Maybe I've overheard one too many nasty jokes or off-colour remarks or insulting stereotypes in the most casual way.
But all I can say is: "Enough!"
Once mean, thoughtless or ignorant words are spoken, they can't be recalled.
True, you can apologize, but if someone feels belittled or betrayed or otherwise hurt, the damage is done.
They might be generous enough to forgive.But to forget? Probably not.
Words are just too powerful to be sent out into the world without a little thought.
"In grade school we were taught a simple maxim: 'Think before you speak,' writes Julie Weingarden Dubin in Woman's Day magazine.
"Seems easy enough, yet I'm surprised by how few adults take it to heart. . . . I know people aren't trying to be malicious. . . . (But) it's time we set some conversation boundaries."
Few people would say they want to be cruel or thoughtless. Yet that can be the result if we don't make an effort to practice courtesy, restraint and most simply, The Golden Rule.
Etiquette expert Judith Martin, also know as Miss Manners, says, "Putting yourself in another person's place means imagining that person's point of view, not just thinking of what you, with your ideas, would do in the other person's situation."
The fact is, everyday you see - and hear - people go out of their way to be kind to others.
I heard about one elderly man who stood in front of an ATM machine while the line got longer and longer and the people behind him got more and more impatient.
One of them even shouted, "Hurry up, you jerk!" then another customer asked the man if he needed help.
It turned out the older man had never used the machine before and just needed a little guidance.
While one person vented feelings of frustration and embarrassed the man, the second acted out of compassion - even though he, too, may have felt just as irritated.
Nobody gets it right all the time, but you can try. You can decide to hold your curiosity and criticism in check. You can stop ugly humour in its tracks whether it's vulgar, racist, sexist or just plain nasty.
And you can "watch your language."
Still, it's not enough to just avoid all the negatives. There's so much to say that's positive. Praise for example - when people do something good, speak up and let them know you noticed.
Extend real compliments freely. Express words of comfort to those who are grieving or in pain. Encourage others who would appreciate a little boost. Make an effort to say "please," "thank you," "excuse me" and "I'm sorry."
Ask questions like "Anything I can get you from the store?" "Need a hand?" or "Can I do anything for you?"
And while you should speak the truth, do it gently.
Have you noticed that many people who pride themselves on being forthright are basically tactless?
Finally, be as good as your word. And let every word be as good as you are.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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