What we say matters


A running joke in our home involves how often human interest stories on the morning news bring at least one of us to tears. "Did CBS This Morning make you cry again?"

Yesterday they got us both, during an interview with two of President George H.W. Bush's 17 grandchildren. Pierce Bush shared the time he wrecked his grandfather's boat, just after graduating from college.

He recalled, "The next night I also got a lashing from my grandmother. She was always loving, but showed more of a tough love than my grandfather. I could see in his eyes, he could feel how embarrassed I was, how sensitive, my grandmother's words were kind of hitting me. That evening when I went to dinner and I came back home, there was this amazing note… It said, 'Pierce, I remember days when I could do no right, but then I would go to bed and the next day, the sun would embrace me, and all would be okay. You're a good man. You got a bad bounce. All is okay. Life goes on. I love you more than tongue can tell and Ganny does, too. Gampy.' It was just one of those notes that you're almost thankful that the boat incident happened so that you can treasure that. Because it's so valuable."

Our words create our worlds
The former president's response reminded me of Judith Hanson Lasater's What We Say Matters: Practicing Nonviolent Communication and how reading it forever changed the words in my mouth and mind. Simply put, it's about increasing our awareness and extending empathy to ourselves and those around us.

Judith writes, "Using speech as a spiritual practice is the act and art of bringing deeper awareness to our words so they not only connect us with ourselves but also reflect what is truly alive in us. When we do this, we help create the kind of world we want to live in and leave to future generations, because then our words promote life."

If you're interested in learning more about Nonviolent Communication (NVC), Judith's book is where I started. There are also lots of free resources on nonviolentcommunication.com for work and home, like the tip below from NVC's Living Compassion Series


"Violent" language? Who, me?
Have you ever sat in a busy airport terminal waiting for your flight and listened to snippets of the conversations going on around you? You might have heard things like: "That's the stupidest idea I ever heard." "Sammy, sit on your bottom or I'll smack you." Or, have you said things such as: "I just hate it when he does that." "She can be such a pain in the neck!"
Would you consider these statements "violent language"? Marshall Rosenberg writes, "While we may not consider the way we talk to be 'violent,' our words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for ourselves or others."
Early in his career, Dr. Rosenberg asked himself the question, "What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?"
It was from answering this question that he developed the Nonviolent Communication process (NVC). These language and communication skills strengthen our ability to remain "human," which Gandhi described as "our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart."
Would you enjoy living in a world where everyone was truly human, even under trying conditions? The first step is to observe more closely how you use language.
Practice suggestion: This week, become more aware of your choice of words and expressions. Become curious to see if there is another less violent way to express yourself.