If You Can’t Say Something Nice
“Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” Not so, according to Joseph Telushkin in his profoundly impactful book, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal.
Harsh criticism, snide sarcasm, nasty nicknames, and thoughtless gossip and rumors can inflict deep and lasting harm on individuals and their relationships. Some of the worst and most enduring pains we’ve suffered were caused by words.
What’s more, Telushkin says, most of us say hurtful things about others much more than we realize. He challenges readers to go 24 hours without saying an unkind word to or about anyone. I flunked.
He’s particularly down on gossip. Although we justify it as harmless and entertaining chatter, many things we say about others are fundamentally unkind and often unfair. Even worse, as anyone knows who has been the target of someone else’s digs, jabs, and judgments, whether the gossip is innocent, insensitive, or malicious, the result is often the same: hurt feelings and damaged reputations and relationships.
Next time you’re tempted to say unkind things about another — either to them or behind their back — ask yourself:
- What is the point and purpose? Is there any good that could come of these remarks?
- Could my words create or reinforce negative opinions that could harm or hurt the person I’m talking about?
- Would I be comfortable if the object of my gossip overheard my comments?
Tact, timing, and tone are all important. When we start being more responsible for our words, we realize the wisdom of the old adage: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.
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