"Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill." ~Buddha
"You have a pretty voice", he said. The boy was nine years old and sat next to me in Mrs. Dodson's fourth grade class. My memories of 4th grade are all in black and white because the class photo was shot in black and white but I remember that morning clearly and in color. Each morning our class started the day by standing and reciting the Lord's Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance followed by singing the Star Spangled Banner. As we sat down my classmate said to me, "You have a pretty voice." I loved to sing and that unsolicited compliment made my heart soar. 50 years later, I remember him, what he said and how it made me feel; I can see him clearly in my mind's eye. His kind words encouraged me to try out for the school chorus and eventually lead to me major in voice at college.
The words we speak impact the people around us. My mother and father were big proponents of the "Please and Thank You" school of parenting. Today that vocabulary is commonplace to me but recently I failed to use the word 'please' when making a request of Marty. He stopped and said, "Please?" Now I am letting you in on one of those occasions when couples just get on one another's nerves and I said, "Pleaseeeee but I would like to point out that you NEVER say please or thank you to me." We did the grown up version of uh huh and nuh uh until I said, "Do me a favor, pay attention to how you make request of me?" And to Marty's credit he agreed. It wasn't ten minutes later before he asked me to do something without saying please. He stopped, had a moment of enlightenment and rephrased his request to include a please.
My point in sharing this story is not to call out Marty for his lack of please and thank yous but to highlight that we get lazy in our speech when communicating with those closest to us. A key element in intentionally loving another person is in how you speak to them: what is your vocabulary? Are your words encouraging, uplifting and kind? Or are you critical, picky and unforgiving? Do you tell your children that you love them everyday? Do you find something positive to say to your friends regularly? Do you thank your spouse frequently for their acts of kindness? The danger in long-term relationships is believing they "know" you care and that you don't have to "work" at the relationship anymore.
Silence can be another barrier in a close relationship. I don't mean the kind of silence where two people sit side-by-side and enjoy one another's company in that silence. I am talking about never acknowledging the good in your children, spouse or friends. Silence can be a tool to withhold affection because kind words are affection. I'm grateful my classmate didn't remain silent. I have cherished his words since I was 9 years old.
Today and for the rest of the week, listen to the words you use when speaking to those closest to you. Take the time to caress them with your words and remind them of the good you see in them. As I said yesterday, aging has its upside. We have a lifetime of experience and the ability cull through the clutter to do what is important. Use your life lessons to make those around you feel valuable and loved.