Speaking Positively - Anne Marie Lee - 24 Feb 2002

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Anne Marie Lee 24th Feb. 2002 SEAKING POSITIVELY

WORDS One word clambered up a throat and rolled off an expansive tongue into the open air It’s unique timbre drifting and floating until it climbed into an unsuspecting ear and gave a little tickly giggle to make itself known Another worked up the courage to float back but all it could manage was a shy little squeak

Across the road a big fat word plopped from an unsuspecting mouth to lumber as it seemed in an outward rolling wave And then a smaller mouth opened and out shot words like from the barrel of a gun whirling gentle words out of the way to reach their target their mission kill. Anna Lee

How we speak to one another has a lasting effect on us for better or worse. Words are powerful as tools of encouragement and creativity, building self confidence and self worth in those to whom they are spoken. Words are also destructive weapons capable of hurting deeply, undermining confidence and self worth. These hurts can take longer to heal than physical injury. The power of words was recognised two thousand years ago when Paul advised the Ephesian community “Do not use harmful words in talking. Use only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you” Eph 4:29.

In my experience we are not so good at complimenting one another directly. We often speak well, or praise a person to a third party and too often that compliment never reaches its true target. We like to criticise, to pick holes in, to knock, and we make no effort to balance this by looking at the positive aspects of the other’s character or actions

Gorgias (485-380BC) a Greek rhetorician and contemporary of Socrates is reputed to have said that there is a disconnection between what we think and what we say. He says, the word doesn’t capture truly our thoughts. I feel there is also a disconnection between what we say and the listeners perception of what was said.

Most people, at some stage, are frustrated because they are unable to get their point of view across. Words seem inadequate or the listener is unable to pick up the meaning behind the words. Hence, misunderstandings arise. It can be a good thing to check that you heard correctly.

How frustrating it must have been for God, speaking through the prophets for thousands of years, being unheard or misunderstood until He sent The Word, His Son, to speak to us and show us the Way. Has He been heard?

We communicate not only in words but in tone of voice and body language also. Something may be said to you which appears fairly innocuous, so why do you get the feeling that the wind has been knocked out of you, that you have been made to feel small? It is because you have tuned in to the ‘put down’ in the speakers tone of voice. When you really listen to the other person you will pick up the irritation, anger or boredom in the speakers voice even when they are being polite in their use of language. People say to children things like, “Who’s a bold boy then” or “I’ll give you away to the bogey man” and the children don’t feel threatened because they hear love in your tone of voice. They see affection in the facial expression or in the hug that you give them as you utter the words.

Language used as a tool to build up will be encouraging, respectful, accepting and understanding. Seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. If you haven’t something good to say, you will keep quiet. Praise will be given where it is deserved, a word of thanks or appreciation offered. Jokes and stories will be inoffensive.

Used as a weapon words can be lethal, particularly when uttered by those who are not aware of their power to destroy. Crude jokes and insinuating remarks in mixed company are insulting and embarrassing for many people. Some of the common language used around sex and sexuality is demeaning and disrespectful to both sexes. Exclusive language in the liturgy is hurtful to women and an attitude of exclusiveness is hurtful to both men and women.

Sayings such as ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ are quite disempowering for many people. These words have no place in our present climate of lifelong learning. Words of encouragement and support would be more appropriate. It may be that older people differ from the young in the methods by which they learn, absorbing the material by filtering it through their lifes experience but, the day they stop learning is the day they stop living. I recently heard a homily in which clergy, religious sisters and brothers, nuns, monks and friars were lauded for their life of service to God. Lay people were not included. Single men and women who devote themselves to witnessing to Christ in the world were not included. Married couples, who not only witness to Christ in the world but go through the pain and suffering of co-creating with God, in giving birth to and raising the next generation of humans, were not included. The young people who give so generously of their time and energy to voluntary projects, were not included. The lay parents, teachers and missioners who pass on the faith at home and abroad, were not included. That priests exclusive language hurt me deeply. Still, maybe it was just an oversight on his part!

How wonderful it would be if words and language were recognised and used as gift. Words used to gently comfort the distressed, give solace to the sick, express joy and love, to admonish the wayward and to give encouragement to all.

When we use words and language positively we uplift not only the listener but ourselves also. Notice how when we have a sunny day and you say to someone “Isn’t the weather great!” you will almost always get a pesimistic response, “Ah! but it said on the news that we’ll have rain tomorrow”. When we compliment one another , “That’s a lovely shirt, the colour suits you” Instead of a response such as “Thanks, I like it too!” You are more likely to hear “Oh! that! Sure I have that for ages.”

We must try to be as careful about what we say as we are about what we write down. Omar Khayyam (A Persian poet and tent maker. Died 1123) wrote: “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.”

Anne Marie Lee Poem by Anna Lee

-- Anonymous, February 24, 2002


Your piece on 'Speaking Positively, gives food for thought ,Anne Marie. You have very high ideals and standards, perhaps because you have developed them since childhood. I ,on the other hand, do find some crude jokes very funny, and I can be quiet crude myself sometimes. Also , when there is great grief or hurt I see the humour there. In fact, there are very few situations I don't see humour in. Unfortunately this too can be misunderstood.

An article in yesterday's Irish Times by Kevin Myres, ties in here ,I think. He mention a forthcoming report on 'Compulsory Irish' by Adrian Kenny, who seemingly claims that the entire programme has been a disaster. Kevin Myres sees the people who want Irish restored as' unhappy hatefilled cranks.'

He continues; "The language is laid out on a slab, and attempts to revive it by compulsion have merely squandered vast treasuries , and ruined thousands of lives. How many working-class children have left school almost uneducated because of the time and the resources wasted on the vain and often violent attempts to drum Irish into their brain".

Looking back to my schooldays and the marathon effort I put in with Irish, I question his conclusion. I went to an Irish teaching secondary school, having very little Irish. It was hard work trying to learn French, geography, history, etc. through Irish. I never got by translating everything into english, and then back to Irish. It seems to me now, that the effort and the use I had to make of my brain then, is the reason why I continue to want to learn now and read books like 'The Truth of the World'.

The effort of learning Irish, even though I never did speak it fluently, put pressure on my brain to develop more(I believe). A lot more research is needed into the impact on the brain of learning languages. The value of language here, in whatever tongue has yet to be realised.

There is a great beauty in words and sounds, and different accents can entrall and give distinction to the speaker. Rita.

P.S. Your daughter's poem is very descriptive. She has a way with words... An argument in your house must be very interesting...

-- Anonymous, March 01, 2002

Rita, Thank you for your reply. I noticed it by accident as it didn't come to me as an E-mail. I popped in to the web site to read again what I had written because I met my elderly Vietnamese friend in the post office today and we had a funny conversation in grunts and gestures about me calling to her house next Monday because she wants to give me home made spring rolls. The post office was packed and they all stopped to look at our antics as this lady, who hasn't a word of English after eight years, was two ahead of me in the queue. We understood each other perfectly without words. I thank God these situations don't embarrass me at all. Anne Marie

-- Anonymous, March 01, 2002

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