‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ – Edward Bulwer Lytton, 1839
Loose Lips Sink Ships was a phrase used as part of an American WWII propaganda campaign to encourage people to avoid ‘careless talk’; at that time, one careless word shared in front of the wrong person could cost the life of a soldier or even a platoon, maybe even the War. But why?
In both War and in Peace, words carry power.
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ was a rhyme we used to sing when we were children, usually directed at someone who had said something a little unpleasant about us (maybe even with a sassy shoulder wiggle and/or raspberry blown to elucidate the point) The thing is, however, more often than not our brave stance masked the fact that, actually, we had been hurt. Words cut, words maim, words are a really effective weapon overall. As shown in the example above, they can even kill.
But can words create life too? A well chose word can soothe, restore, edify and encourage. Think of the words of encouragement a parent whispers to a crying child or the screams of a coach to a boxer at the ring side – both can result in a change of heart and a change of direction. The external situation wouldn’t have changed but the perspective, well, that shifted.
Do we ever stop to think of the effect our words have on others? Now I’m not for one suggesting we live a life of silent monastic reflection nor that we psycho-analyse our speech to a degree that even Freud would class as a bit OTT! That said, if we know how much power one well-chosen word can cut to the quick – how are we using that knowledge? It’s so easy to find your self pontificating about why this or that person got the promotion, or put on weight, or who we reckon they have been getting friendly with. There wouldn’t be so many self-proclaimed glossy gossip mags if there wasn’t a human desire to delve into others privates lives and fish for dirt. Why do we do it? Tall Poppy syndrome? Personal Benchmarking? Why is it so much easier to believe a scurrilous rumour than it is to speak truth?
Sometimes focussing on the woes of somebody else, be it their ballooning weight, or catastrophic personal life, allow us to forget where we are sitting on the little roller coaster of life. My Mum always says ‘There will always be someone worse off than you’ and it’s true – but let’s use that to check our paradigm and not to bask in Schadenfreude. If we spent more time building people up behind their back imagine the atmosphere you could create to ignite human potential? Knowing I have an army of people assuming the best of me has never failed to propel me forward. What about you?
You may say that you don’t want to do that for someone else when nobody has ever done that to you? I get that. That said, if we all adopt the deficit mentality of what we don’t have then we’ll never get anywhere. As Mahatma Gandhi said ‘Be the change you want to see in the world!
Others aside for a moment, what about you? What are you saying about your self? How do you describe in a resume, your twitter feed or a dating profile? Confession: I am a big fan of self-deprecating stories or anecdotes to socially disarm, break the ice at work or even (gulp) keep my pride in check. But my character or my identity? Self-Assasination is not my bag – neither before others, nor indeed in my own company. Why? Not because I live in a Disney showreel (though that would be cool) but because so many studies have been done on the power of self talk and its scope to change your emotions, relationships and even your life trajectory. In the same way that my broad vowel sounds mark me out as a Northern British/Welsh Mongrel type, your words betray your inner man. A lot of us speak to ourselves in a way we would never dream of addressing those we love.
Remember: Your words ultimately shape your world!
Dont put your self down or live in the lie that you are not able, not quite right or not good enough. Yes we all have issues and weaknesses to address so a.) acknowledge them b.) plan to improve but also c.) celebrate and bolster your strengths. That will make your Locus of Control look like it’s on steroids!
What you focus on will ultimately consume you.*
A Challenge/Food For Thought
1.) Try to indulge in a little reverse gossip – Choose to praise someone behind their back, especially someone you may not see eye to eye with. Check the impact that has on your perspective.
2.) Challenge your self to write down 5 Limiting Self-Beliefs and show them to whose opinion you trust – Ask them if they ring true. If they do then address them, If they don’t, replace them with the truth!
*One of the reasons I think I am starting to self-identify with bacon 🙂