Monday, October 22, 2018

Michael Josephson: Unkind words are weapons

  With four teenage daughters, I frequently find myself correcting, disciplining, or simply protesting unnecessary and unkind comments certain to anger or wound a sister and evoke counterattacks that fill the air with nastiness.

  Hoping to get them to think before they speak in the future, I often ask, “What did you expect to accomplish by that remark?” and “Did it make things better or worse?” It rarely makes a difference.

  It’s as if their instinct to express anger or utter sarcasm, accusations, and complaints is too strong to allow for wise strategies like “Think before you speak” to operate.

  It disappoints and frustrates me that my children are often unkind to one another and so quick to make foolish comments that have no constructive purpose. Yet it’s even more troublesome when adults engage in the same senseless and destructive behavior.

  It may be a husband’s unfiltered remark about his wife’s smothering style, a wife’s dig about her husband’s lack of energy, a parents’ comment, “That’s why you have no friends” or ‘Why can’t you be more like your brother?” or an aunt’s unwanted advice, “If you want to get married, lose weight.”

  Often the content of a remark is objectively objectionable and they never should have been uttered, but tone, timing, or setting can make even seemingly harmless observations hurtful.

  We have to remember that words are weapons, sometimes weapons of mass destruction.

  Verbal assaulters may defend their unguided missiles with claimed innocence: “I didn’t mean it that way” when the real question is “How was the remark likely to be received?”

  Another lame excuse is “I was just telling the truth,” without considering whether that truth needed to be said. Honesty does not preclude tact. It’s not a sin to have an unexpressed thought.

  We may not always be able to shield ourselves from the darts and arrows of inconsiderate or mean-spirited folks, but we can resolve to be more thoughtful in our own communications.

  We can be more kind more consistently. We can follow the Golden Rule and a few other age-old bits of wisdom like: “Think before you speak” and “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

  Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Capital City Free Press on December 12, 2011.

  About the author: Michael Josephson is one of the nation’s most sought-after and quoted ethicists. Founder and president of Josephson Institute and its CHARACTER COUNTS! project, he has conducted programs for more than 100,000 leaders in government, business, education, sports, law enforcement, journalism, law, and the military. Mr. Josephson is also an award-winning radio commentator.

  This article was published by the Josephson Institute.

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