The harsh door knocker startled me from reading. The neighbor who was mowing the lawn stood at the door and announced “Water is running”. Oh, my! I scrambled outside. I had turned several watering hoses on earlier in the day and failed to turn one off. Three words had catapulted me to action. That, along with studying C.S. Lewis ‘s Reflections on the Psalms dealing with the importance of brief expressions solidified inspiration for this blog.
Lewis describes how the ancients describe evil done with the knife, the big stick, and the firebrand compared with damage done by talk. The Psalmist mentions hardly any kind of evil more often that this one which the most civilized societies share. Words that cut like a razor, talk that sounds smooth as oil meant to wound like a sword. In contrast, “My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the utterance from my heart will give understanding.” (Ps 49:3). Mankind has always needed encouragement to augment what they say. Being aware of how brief words, written or spoken, very often alter one’s attention, direction, opinions and emotions deserves special attention. Words are crucial.
As discussed in previous blogs, communication consists of three parts: content, body language and tone. One of the three is 30% one is 60% and the last is 10%. Clients usually guess that content would be strongest, but body language claims 60%, tone a strong 30% and content ranks a mere 10%. We’ve discussed the importance of body language and tone but not much on content. This blog focuses on the significance of content of only 2 to 5 words.
As you read my token list of common phrases, along with various emotions and actions triggered by these statements, you’ll be able to add a hundred. I’ll look forward to your comments.
You’ve heard and uttered them:
You're the best. Looks great. Oh, good, you've come. You’ll be fine.
You'll make it. Hang in there.Good job.I'm here for you. It’s a boy.
What a friend. You owe nothing. You passed. Great to see you. Easy does it.
I'll pray for you (my favorite). I'm proud of you. You're loved. It's the law.You’re
too young. You’re too old. I know I'm right. Count me out.
You’re disqualified. No way. You are wrong. That’s a stupid idea.
No visitors allowed. You failed. Watch out. I gave up on you.
Emotional and ignited actions/responses to expressions:
destroy, stimulate, please, encourage, alert, soothe, inform, challenge,
sweeten, anger, threaten, calm, cheer, relieve, run, scream, cry, laugh,
Or, take one’s breath--“Honey, we need to talk”. There are many more.
Interestingly, expressions often define us in some way. Jim’s two-worder expression, “Watch out” said often as we cared for our children and grandchildren. As they got older, they teased him about his verbal caution that seemed to be present at every event. These two words aptly described his protector preference as ESTJ-Extroverted Sensing Structured Thinker.
Jim’s Dad, extremely easy going, used a three-worder “Might as well” so regularly, that it made its way into our couple chit chat 25 years after he passed when one of us finally acquiesced.
Recall a few words of encouragement that a parent, teacher, speaker or friend said or wrote that kept you working on a job or toward a goal. Take a minute to reflect before going on. Nothing is too small. Statements—good and bad--can lodge in one’s mind for decades.
Moving from a three-room country school with seven in my 8th grade class to a city school with three rooms of 20 students plummeted my easy A’s to B’s. Getting used to assignments and new teaching styles was difficult, especially in Latin 1 where I finished my first year with 49. Miss Kellopher spoke quietly about my failing grade “Ruthie, I’m passing you to Latin 2 because I know you can do this.” Her projection was accurate. I finished Latin 2 with A. The risk she took made quite an impression on me. Twenty years later I was privileged to thank her for having faith in my potential. Actually, it was in Latin 2 when I discovered my love for words. I was fascinated with derivation and conjugation exercises, especially the word credo. Latin helped me understand English grammar which ultimately influenced my writing career.
Jim’s automatic expression, “Make it easy on yourself”, also defined him perfectly. When I’d asked what he wanted for dinner, he’d always say, “make it easy on yourself”. Toward everyone, he was pleasant, kind, and gentle, never wanting to burden anyone. He always put others first. Even during the month he spent in the hospital, he urged caregivers to do what was easiest for them when they moved him.
Contemplating how one learns to be careful with words transported me back 50 years when we taught our children a little theology via a song: Be careful little hands what you do; Be careful Little hands what you do, for the Father up above looking down in tender love, be careful little hands what you do: Then, be careful little eyes what you see, be careful little ears what you hear, be careful little feet where you go and be careful little mouth what you say? This is exactly what the Psalms and other scripture teach but it is especially difficult for extroverts who don’t know what they’re thinking until they hear themselves talk. Be very careful what you say. Take time to think before you speak. What we say is not only important to others but also to ourselves. We must decide how we want others to view us, then speak that way. We never learn everything we need to know.
A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:23,26 (NIV)
… the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire… James 3:2,5-6 (NIV)
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 (NIV)