For Parents Only

Think before you speak — verbally or digitally

My older son has been after me to start a blog for a couple of years now. At first I resisted because, frankly, I didn’t like the word “blog.” It sounds like something that happens when you have an upset stomach.

But then I googled it (another cyberese term that sounds like what happens when someone tickles you too hard — Oops, I googled!) and discovered “blog” is simply short for web log. Now a log is an official record, typically associated with a voyage or travel. So a blog is a record of one’s personal-professional journey that is posted in cyberspace. Having overcome my aversion to the word, the next issue was to decide what to blog about. Anything, he told me, just write whatever’s on your mind. And that got me thinking.

There seems to be an epidemic of people saying and writing what’s on their minds. And that is fine, so long as it is clear to them, and their audience, that that is all it is — what’s on their mind. That doesn’t make it true, right, or factual. It is what’s on their mind, which is the same thing as their opinion. Unfortunately, we become very attached to our opinions. So much so that we seek verification of our opinions by listening only to those who share them and ignoring those who do not; only attending to information that supports our position; and interpret new information in a way that supports our existing beliefs or theories. This is called confirmation bias.

Honestly, that’s a real thing. You can google it.

So here’s what’s on my mind — my opinion. Words are powerful. They can be constructive or destructive. In order to avoid the latter, they should be selected carefully and thoughtfully. That is why we have a brain — so we can think before we speak. A good test for deciding whether or not we should or should not say what is on our mind is to consider how we would feel if someone said it to us. I believe there would be much less talking and blogging if this test were practiced more often.

In the previous paragraph, I wrote that words are powerful. After thinking about that statement, I would like to modify it. More accurately, words can be powerful. Words, in and of themselves, have no power. Just because words are spoken, doesn’t make them true.

Saying them louder doesn’t make them truer. Words can only have the power we afford them.

Currently, words are being tossed around as weapons. Fortunately, words cannot cause physical damage. Words cannot kill. However, they can be destructive to our mental, emotional, and social well being, if we choose to accept the words being tossed to us and grant them the power they were intended to have. But we can refuse to give credence to the words thrown at us. We can let them fall harmlessly around us. We possess the power to determine the effect of their impact. In turn, we choose whether to use words as weapons or as balm. Choosing to use them as the latter takes great courage.

Standing at about five foot nothing, my grandmother was a woman of few words. But her face — especially her piercing, slate-blue eyes — spoke volumes. I don’t ever remember her saying, “I love you,” but I will never forget how her face lit up when my two sisters and I walked through her door. Or that she always had Juicy Fruit in the wardrobe. Or how whenever she took a notion to make something, there were always three of them. Her actions revealed what she did not verbalize. Her economy of words taught me that those who say the least, often have the most to say, and vice versa.

Mindful of grandma’s reticence, I listened that much more carefully when she did speak. One day, while sharing a hurtful encounter with a classmate that rendered me speechless, incapable of producing a witty retort, she took my hands in hers and said, “Carolyn, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” That advice has saved me countless times from the pain of remorse. The regret from what is not said is easier to bear than the regret from what is.

Holding my tongue has provided the opportunity to observe that what a person says reveals so much more about them than it does about the person to whom they are speaking. The eyes may be the windows to our soul, but words are the mirrors of our mind. In these days of attempting to excuse hurtful, cruel, malicious, ugly talk with the simple justification, “I’m just saying what’s on my mind,” I can’t help but wonder what that says about our minds?

Oftentimes, the first thing that comes to mind is not worth expressing. Thinking twice before speaking yields more favorable results. Gandhi wrote that our thoughts, expressed through our words and actions, reveal our character and determine our destiny. My new year’s resolution is to ponder my thoughts and mind my words.

Carolyn Waterbury-Tieman has been married for 29 years and has two sons. She spent 15 years as a family therapist and parent educator and has written extensively on the topic of parenting. To contact her, please e-mail parent4lif[email protected]

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