COMMENTARY 975.2: 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 wisdoms like: “Think before you speak” and “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 7

  1. Cara Steiner

    Thank-you for the latest commentary “Unkind Words are Weapons”. Your thoughts and comments are valuable and important. I appreciate each newsletter and helpful tidbits to help keep me positive and moving forward.

    No need to reply.

  2. sabbas

    What Will Matter | COMMENTARY 922.2: Unkind Words Are WeaponsI have a teenage son and daughter. From time to time when I have had to express my dismay at the unkind and hurtful behavior they were engaging in, I have said that if one of them saw the other being spoken to or treated in this way by someone other than them, would they accept that? Would they like that ? I asked my son once if he would like his sister to be called names and belittled by another boy and he cried. I asked my daughter if she would like to hear one of her girlfriends say what she just said to her brother and she rang to him and gave him a hug and said “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”I walked away and heard her brother say to her “if you don’t mean it, than don’t say it, I’m sorry too”. Don’t worry , this has been repeated a couple of times now and I suspect it will again!
    The adults, well that’s a minefield and having been there and done that, I have witnessed incredible hurt and suffering that unkind words have led to. The like of which has compelled me to speak kindly and with sincerity from an early age. Words are weapons and if used as such leave trauma and self esteem issues that can take some a lifetime to deal with. The history books show us this , as does science and medicine. I will continue to be who I am and never give up on delivering the message that kindness and love serves you and everyone far better than the reverse. Thank you and good luck with the four girls. I had three sisters and two brothers!

  3. Bob Kahn

    The entire time that I read Michael’s excellent take, I could not think of those I know that think Political Correctness is just BS and wrong. I know a lot of people like that. Those that hate political correctness really want to say what they feel, regardless of how what they say may be taken with great hurt or anger, which leads to what constructive value? Agree or disagree?

  4. Eric Edmunds

    I’m not going to say anyone here is hypocritical, but this website has blasted out countless commentaries that there is no such thing as “white lies”. We allegedly must adhere to the brutal truth, no matter how unkind.

    I don’t agree. “Honesty” and kindness often work at cross-purposes. I vote for kindness.

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