Words can hurt. They may be said in anger, or with the intention of “teaching” someone. They may be the speaker’s rendition of a truth he or she feels another needs to hear. They may even be “second hand”—repeating what someone else has said about the listener.
Hurtful comments are like arrows piercing the heart of another. While we would never actually physically hurt anyone, words can cut deeper than any knife. Yet, words are often carelessly tossed about with little regard for the invisible damage they inflict.
Words that hurt deeply are never forgotten. All of us can undoubtedly remember the sting of a nasty comment, or a thoughtless criticism. At eighty years old, people can remember a hurtful remark made by a parent or teacher during the first ten years of life. Husbands and wives may carry the painful memory of something said twenty years earlier.
We do not tend to think of words as weapons, but they certainly can be. At times, they can even be lethal. A mean comment has often been the last straw for someone contemplating suicide.
Words cannot be retracted. One can apologize, say he or she did not mean what was said, or try to justify the comment. Regardless of what is said, the memory of the statement cannot be erased from the consciousness of the other.
One way to prevent our words from damaging another, of course, is to practice loving kindness. Any message can be delivered with loving kindness . Another helpful strategy is, before speaking, to imagine ourselves on the receiving end of what we are about to say. If we would not want to hear the statement made about ourselves, we should not speak it to another.
Re-thinking how we use language to communicate with others, and choosing our words with care and integrity, requires that we slow things down and think before we speak. Nothing justifies verbally stabbing another. Doing so diminishes both the listener and the speaker.
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