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“Merely words?” Oh the damage they can do…

June 25, 2010

Have you ever seen a movie or TV courtroom scene where something gets said by someone in the witness stand and, once the attorney screams “Objection,” the judge advises that, “will the jury please strike that from the record?”

Dutifully, the stenographer stikes out the statement and, theoretically, the words disappear from the “offical” proceedings. But what about the human physche? Can we just push an “erase” button on our brains?

The reality is that it’s not that simple. While we may want to take back something we’ve said, sometimes there’s no putting that baby back once it’s out. And, try as we might to forget, what we hear and what’s said to us can leave a significant impact once the words have died on the wind.

How many times have you had someone say, “oh, sheesh, I really didn’t MEAN that?”  I guess this is where I would urge greater caution then.  Remember that old saying, “engage brain before opening mouth?” Well, I think if we did that, we’d find we manage to offend lot fewer people.  The truth is that we are very careless sometimes with what we say, particularly in the heat of an argument or tense moments. We throw barbs as a way of defending ourselves or fighting back, but when we’ve cooled off we realize “oh, didn’t mean it.”

By that time, the damage is done.  And, the damage our words do can be equally, if not worse, than physical damage. Our bodies heal; not so always with our souls, our confidence, our feelings. Consider that emotionally-abusive parenting can leave permanent scars on a child’s sense of self and well-being.  All the therapy in the world may not fix that person’s feeling of worthlessness and shame.

As another extreme example, think about what happened with Josie Lou Ratley and Wayne Treacy.   As Wayne is kicking the stuffing out of her because her last text comment to him pushed him over the edge, do you think her saying “I didn’t mean it – you just made me mad!” was going to change the outcome? Would that keep Wayne from likely replaying those dreadful words, “why don’t you go visit your dead brother” in his head? Folks, there are some things that shouldn’t be said, because once they’re out, you can’t take them back.

I know we’re all human and we have this nasty tendency to say things we regret later.  I guess I’m advocating for spending a little more time thinking, and a little less time reacting because our world is becoming a place where “take it back” is expected. We can correct our poor typing and grammar as it occurs through the wonders of technology; we can recall an email message sometimes even after it’s sent.  What we can’t recall are those words we utter in haste. And like all the King’s Horses and All the King’s men, Humpty-Dumpty can’t be put back together again, no matter how much “we didn’t mean it.”

It’s much easier to be cautious with what we say before it leaves our mouth than it is to wipe up the damage afterwards and rebuild.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tranquil1 permalink
    June 28, 2010 1:51 pm

    This post reminds me of the book, Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig.

    It addresses the distinction between “good-natured teasing and the destructive variety”. Sometimes, I feel like this book is something ADULTS need to read.


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