Our language and how we use it affect who we are and how we live. Our words color our experience just as our experience colors our words. Sometimes it’s hard to understand just how much of a difference a change of vocabulary can make until you try it. Here are a few options for you to consider:
1. Become a mobile no-fire zone. Eliminate negative habits such as sarcasm, denigrating language, hate, spite, and anger from your vocabulary, and inform those around you that you are no longer accepting such negativity in your interactions with them. Of course, bad things happen and bad news is part of life, but there are ways to convey negative events without adding to their potency by couching them in spiteful, petty, destructive, or insensitive language. Turn off the news – you’d be surprised how well-informed you can stay just by listening to the normal conversations taking place around you – and by then the doom-and-gloom delivery and “red alert” crisis immediacy has been significantly watered down.
2. Whenever you find yourself using aggressive, violent, or competitive language. Even in a seemingly innocent manner – see if you can’t find another, positive way to rephrase what you’re trying to say. (If you can’t, or can only after a significant struggle, reflect on what this might indicate about the way your mind and your real work.) For example, instead of saying that you “would kill” to do something, find a saner way of indicating your eagerness. Instead of being ready to “wring his neck,” find a less violent way to express your aggravation. Instead of saying that you “shot yourself in the foot,” replace it with something like “I really dropped the ball on that one.” It may seem insignificant and harmless at first, but (as many people also find when they try to stop cursing) you might be shocked at how frequently and how pervasively violent, negative speech crops up in your daily interactions.
3. You are what you eat, and this holds equally true for any type of input. If you spend your days listening to complaining coworkers, only to turn on the television to a “snide and witty” sit-com of a sniping family the moment you get home, how do you think your interactions with your family will go? If your only exposure to marriage and relationships is through bickering parents and offensively anti-family music and entertainment, then how do you expect to create a stable loving relationship of your own? It’s GIGO all over again – Garbage In, Garbage Out. Change the soundtrack that goes into your head, and you’ll change the soundtrack coming out.
4. Henry Ford once said that “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right.” The fact is that more often than not, human beings do believe our own press, as the saying goes – we believe not only what we’ve been told about ourselves by others, but also what we say about ourselves on our own. How many times have you seen someone do something impossible simply because no one bothered to tell them it was impossible? Watch your language over the next week or so. See how many times you “predict” failure in your speech and actions. Now see if you can’t reverse those failures by “predicting” success for a while. You might be intrigued by the results.
5. Retraining your language doesn’t stop with you. You have to take care not to pass on your bad habits to your friends and family (especially to your children). It’s very easy to say things that have no apparent injurious qualities, but that do injure nonetheless. The best way to avoid this and to remove already existing problems from your speech is to ask for feedback. Explain that you’re going on a “bad vibe diet” and ask to be told if anything you say has negative or hurtful overtones (or undertones) that you weren’t aware of. Of course, this takes trust, patience, and a willingness to be called on stuff you don’t necessarily want to be called on. Getting defensive is almost a given, but don’t let such behavior steal the conversation – admit that you’re feeling prickly, thank your confronter for their assistance and ask to be given time to think about the feedback and get back to them on it. Go over what was said when you have some distance – you might be surprised at what you find out.
Sticks and stones may break some bones, but words have the power to wound for life – and they show no discrimination by hurting both the speaker and the spoken to. The speaker begins to live his or her own words as much as the hearer does, and each repetition solidifies this change. Cleaning up your speech does more than clean up your mind – it also cleans up your life and the lives of those around you.