I was reading an issue of Family: Good Living, Better Parenting magazine this morning while waiting for my mom at the NUS MRI Centre. There was a short article entitled ‘Speak Wisely’ which spoke about the power of positive affirmation in parenting. As you can expect, the overwhelming tendency is for parents to focus on the negative and criticize the child when positive affirmation is what the child needs. Or so writes Dr. Hal Urban who got his PhD in ‘peak performance’ (I found that amusing :P).
He also wrote that words have become so overused in our lives that we have forgotten the power and influence that words wield… both the positive power to inspire and heal as well as the negative power to hurt and cause psychological and emotional damage. That article reminded me of the film I Not Stupid 2 which emphasized repeatedly the message that we should build on what’s positive in people rather than condemning them for what’s negative.
I pondered on Words. And I was thinking, that while we often hear the reminder that good advice is often hard to swallow and that sweet words are often not trustworthy, we also often forget that some of the most powerful words are words of love and affirmation, and that a lot of needless pain and damage are inflicted through negative words.
The crux, I think, does not lie in whether or not the words are themselves pleasant or not to hear. But where does it lie? I am not yet sure myself. But I do know that words weave a web over people… negative words of unconstructive criticism, anger and impatience weave a toxic atmosphere which attacks people’s self-esteem and sense of well-being. Positive words of affirmation and love give life, energy and encouragement and build people’s self-esteem. This may all seem very trite… for countless psychologists and self-help books have repeated this principle ad infinitum. And yet, I can’t help wonder, how many of us actually make the effort to scrutinize the use of this potent ‘weapon’ of speech?
We are, all of us, both the person that wields speech and the person that receives speech. What caveats do we need to remember as the person that speaks? What other caveats should we note as the person who listens?
I must speak words of truth, justice and love. If I do not make it a point to make my words kind, I do not speak with love. If I fail to speak truth for fear of causing hurt, I also do not love. Yet, as the speaker, I should never fail to be kind in words, for truth will deliver its rightful punch regardless. What I just need to remember is: do I give life when I speak? Or do I sap life away?
How about when I listen? How often have I shut my ears and heart because what I hear causes me discomfort or pain? Do I pause to reflect on why there is discomfort? Perhaps I fail to realize that as the listener, I too have power to convert almost anything I hear, no matter how negative, into positive energy for my own growth. To do that, I need to practice separating the wheat from the chaff – to extract the kernel of truth from its packaging (no matter how beautiful or ugly) and put my focus therein.
I learn to really listen attentively when I realize that nobody can determine my value as a person, no matter how close they are. It is when my self-worth becomes independent from the opinion and judgment of others that I am really able to listen without fear and learn. Above all, I need to learn to speak truth to myself with kindness, and to listen to my own voice with courageous honesty.
Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless- Mother Teresa
May we all learn to speak kindly and wisely, and to listen fearlessly…both to ourselves and to others!