We all forget ourselves at times and say things that just pop into our heads without thinking about how the words will sound to others. It’s a disturbing lack of filtration on our brains, because, admit it – we don’t always think the nicest things about other people. Recently I’ve been focused on the things I say to other people that I realize later are totally unnecessary or even downright rude. After focusing on the way I speak and listening to others who are in the know on the topic, I’ve learned a lot about the best things to say – or not say - to others.
Put on a Delay
Janet Jackson did us all a favor by exposing her breast on live television many years ago. After that half-time incident, television producers started showing us “live” events that weren’t entirely live. There is now a built-in delay of just a few seconds on almost everything we watch live on television. Those few seconds are enough for producers to screen material as it is said and keep the naughty stuff out.
We can all take a lesson from this – if we enact our own live delay on speech, we could prevent a huge number of embarrassing mishaps as well as keep from hurting others. It’s impossible to plan every word that comes out of your mouth, but starting now, try to build in a filter. Think about the words you’re saying – don’t just say them. If you hear that your words are going in a wrong direction either stop yourself or change the sentence around to say something else. It is far better to look like a goofball with choppy sentences than someone hateful or ugly.
Use Person-Centered Language
I learned this tidbit from a friend who has special needs. My friend has autism, and until I learned to use “person-centered language” I might have said I have an autistic friend. We say things all the time that identify people by labels rather than by their personalities or names, i.e. my autistic friend, my mentally retarded cousin, my overweight uncle. “Autistic”, “mentally retarded” and “overweight” are adjectives describing a person that take precedence over the actual person.
Unfortunately, when we describe a person in this way, we are detracting from the person. Rather than “my autistic friend” I should be saying, “my friend who has autism.” My “mentally retarded cousin” becomes “my cousin suffering from mental retardation.” My “overweight uncle” becomes “my uncle struggling with being overweight.” These phrases may not roll right off the tongue when you’re speaking and it definitely takes conscious thought to phrase things politely, but person-centered language lets everyone know that you realize the person is not the same thing as the condition they are suffering from.
The Golden Rule of Language
How quickly we seem to forget the golden rule. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you.’ If you’re into gossip, think about what it is like to be gossiped about. If you’re about to say something nasty, think about what it would be like to be on the receiving end of that statement. If you’re going to post something horrible on your wall or thread, consider what it might be like to be the subject of someone else’s hate-filled comments online. Now the only thing left to do is pay attention to what you’re saying and try to help others do the same.