I never understood the saying “sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you”. Bones are easily healed with time and rest, whereas the words we say to ourselves and others are not so easily erased. They combine to make the sentences, paragraphs and chapters of our autobiography — the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. “You’re really smart. You’re stupid. You can’t sing. You throw like a girl. You’re not fat, you’re big boned.” Or, “I’m not flexible. I could never run. I hate math. I could never be a vegetarian. I’m not a dog person.” These statements stick. I’m sure every reader out there remembers some passing comment made to them by friend, foe, or stranger that has had a lasting impact on how they see themselves or the people around them. Words have power!
Several recent articles I’ve read, and conversations I’ve had, have gotten me thinking about these very real linguistic impacts. In “Girl” vs. “Woman”: Why Language Matters, a video posted by Mayim Bialik (@MissMayim) on social media, she states:
As the title of her video suggests, she is specifically referring to how we talk about women. By calling women girls, we immediately (whether we intend to or not) equate them with sweet, fragile beings, and that will be exactly how we end up treating them. She encourages us to change the narrative so that we ultimately change the perception of, and our regard for, women. She goes on to make a really good point. We would never call a man a boy, now would we?!
Finally, a conversation I had with a good friend also had a big impact on me. She realized sometime last year that she has spent most of her life telling herself what she CAN’T do, which has essentially trapped her in a cycle of negative habits and behaviors. If you have no will power, how are you ever expected to get your binge-eating under control? If you have a bad back, then you most certainly can’t go to the gym or run. If you have no patience and a quick temper, you’re likely to have lots of confrontations with others. See how it works? Then, one day, she decided to change the conversation. “There is a shitload of power in telling yourself something empowering about yourself over and over and over.” Once she started telling herself what she CAN do, her life began to change dramatically. She got stronger, fitter, and calmer.
Sounds of Silence
There exists a collective perception that silence is awkward We fill the void with unnecessary prattle to avoid the discomfort of nothing said Why? When so much of it is unkind or untrue To be silent does not mean we have no voice To the contrary when we do speak we know our voices are worthy of being heard
She went on to pose the question,” what if we started to talking to ourselves and others differently“? What if we routinely asked: Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it true? Does it add value to the conversation? How will my words impact the receiver, even if the receiver is myself? Be careful with your words, even if you are trying to be nice, because language is powerful. What you say to someone, regardless of intention, can have very lasting psychological consequences. Even the good stuff, like “you are so smart, pretty, etc”, because these words can create unrealistic expectations. What happens when said person fails at something, or refuses to go out of the house without make-up on for fear of being “ugly.” Maybe instead, we try “I really like how hard you worked on that picture, game, music piece, etc” or “you are really glowing today.” Or, maybe, we say nothing at all. Sometimes silence is golden.
Words are powerful. Language sets expectations. Let’s change the conversation. Let’s change the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Let’s change the story we tell others about themselves. Let’s use our words wisely…or not at all.