Maybe Not Bones, But Hearts… And Worse: The Destructive Power of Simple Speech

Out of the blue, slap bang in the middle of a working day, an unexplained sensation inside your mouth breaks your concentration.

You have deadlines to meet, and you react merely by immersing yourself with new determination in the task in hand.

At least until the next day, when the mild discomfort has progressed to a stabbing pain.

Any wishful thinking that the fate of the whole world depends on your finishing your work is now irrelevant. When you reach the dentist, he shakes his head sympathetically and jabs a needle right into your gums.

Wonderful thing, these anesthetics. The ache is gone even before he lays a finger on that troublesome tooth!

Now, let’s imagine you were created with a kind of natural anesthetic, that washed your mouth continuously so that you never got toothache. Good? Probably not. You’d never know when a tooth needed attention, until it would be far too late.

Horrified and sickened..

Problem is, this isn’t as far fetched as it may seem. You see, you get anesthetics for the body, and other anesthetics for the mind.

A former teacher, John Andrew Murray, wrote in Teachers in Focus magazine about his experiences with an English class at a private American school.

In order to spice his lessons, Murray was using the old television series, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” each week to teach his students about plot development.

After a few weeks, he decided to stop the show before the end and let the students write their own endings. The students liked the ideas so much that they wanted to read their work aloud in class.

After about the third student, he put a stop to the reading aloud. What the teacher had heard horrified and sickened him.

When he later discussed with them the very explicit imagery of violence he had found in their papers, Murray’s students were quick to insist that media violence didn’t affect them because the graphic scenes they saw on TV and films were “fake”. Murray then asked them how they would feel if they saw a dog on TV getting riddled with bullets.

“How horrible!” they cried out in unison.

Murray concludes that unlike the human carnage they regularly witnessed on TV, his students had found animal deaths appalling because they had seldom seen it. For the first time, they realized how desensitized they had become to violence.

Sad, isn’t it?

The truth is, with most human beings the desensitization process goes even further. Much further. Sometimes, it’s good. ( We eventually “get over” a loss, or forget a traumatic episode.) More often, it’s anything but good.

Remarkable human talent

Take the remarkable human talent for hurting others by what we say.

At times, it’s deliberate; we WANT to inflict verbal pain on our friends -whether we admit it or not. (Often, this is to compensate ourselves for imagined feelings of inferiority). At other times, we don’t intend to offend, but do so nonetheless.

It’s the art of anesthesia again. We’ve become desensitized.

A seemingly innocuous example. A friend may have a spouse, child, or parent who’s critically ill. We unwittingly reassure her: “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”

She’s not comforted. Just the reverse. She knows everything won’t be fine.

For that matter, why tell a friend who bought herself a new dress last week, even if she asks for your opinion, that it looks terrible on her? (I’m assuming it’s already too late for her to do anything about it; if she can, that might be different, provided you tell her the right way!)

I won’t even talk here of purposeful innuendos, backhanded compliments, slurs and insults. At all times, people who really want to spread love in the world should take extra care with their speech.

Do you remember the schoolyard chant: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!

Utter tripe!

OK, words may be rarely able to break bones, but they can break our hearts, our spirits, even our reputations.

And yes, our ability to develop and maintain meaningful relationships.

Azriel Winnett is creator of – Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular free website helps you improve your communication and relationship skills in your business or professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene. New articles added almost daily.

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