… can break my bones but words will never hurt me. Or will they? Do you remember, the last time someone made an off the cuff remark to you? Negative comments so discouraging that you gave something up because of it?
Its amazing how the smallest comment, which may not mean anything to the speaker, can be so incredibly detrimental to the person its directed to.
I was attending an educational session on behavioral learning today and an interesting discussion came up. The facilitator, who I will call Janine, facilitated a discussion on how negative comments can not only demoralize an individual, but can also last that person’s entire life. The younger a person when the incident occurs, the stronger the reaction.
Janine shared a personal story in which, when she was younger, her parents put her into ballet and horseback riding at the same time. As a young person, it was a bit challenging to focus on learning how to keep her feet pointed up to control her horse and at the same time learn how to keep her feet pointed down to have a good ballet stance. Well at one point one of her ballet instructor commented that her stance reminded her of a stomping elephant. It was a negative comment that may not have meant anything to the instructor and may have been meant as a way to push Janine to do better, but it had the reverse effect.
To this day, Janine will not dance because she is too self-conscious to muster up the courage to get on the dance floor and have a good time. The ballet instructor robbed her of this with that negative comment.
It reminded me of my own situation and how similar it was to my experience. When I was a kid, my parents used to take us to Pakistan to visit relatives every few years. It was an opportunity to learn the local languages of Urdu and Punjabi. Well, I ended up learning to speak to a moderate conversational level which was a good thing. But I was using a feminine dialect instead of a masculine one. Meaning I was speaking the language as if I was a woman instead of a man. This was done through how you pronounce the last syllable in each word. My relatives found it cute and very funny and would laugh and make fun at every chance they got. In fact, to this day, if certain relatives phone the first thing they want to bring up is how I used to speak. Though it wasn’t officially a negative comment, it was close enough.
Needless to say, I, like Janine, to this day have a hard time speaking most other languages because of negative comments. I found that I really love learning languages, but I have this huge fear of speaking with others for fear of embarrassment. Fortunately, someone else made a comment that has helped me start to overcome that issue. When I was in Montreal a couple of years ago, a waitress told me that she was shocked at how well I spoke French and didn’t believe that I was from Toronto. What really surprised her was that I was able to do a very believable French accent to go along with my French dialect. Thanks to her, I hope one day to move on to learning Mandarin and Japanese. Who knows, I may return to learning Urdu and Punjabi again as well.
To put things into perspective we did an exercise today as well where we had to write words on a piece of paper using cake decoration icing. After we wrote those words we were asked to put those words back into the icing tube. We all stood confused and yet we realized that words come out easily but are impossible to take back.
So next time you write a speech or give a presentation, consider your word usage. Are you using negative comments? If in doubt, leave it out, or get a second opinion.
In my next post, I discuss the key to breaking through barriers that hurtful words can create within you.
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