Words can cost lives, loves and freedom – really?
Absolutely they can.
Words on their own of course, don’t have much power. The meaning behind them is created through the tone of our voice if we are the speaker, and the interpretation that we spin through our own personal biases, situation, and history, if we are the listener.
So you need to be very careful how you use them. You need to be very careful of your facts, if you make an opinion. Your intention can be pure, but if your words are sloppy, then there can be severe consequences.
And context is all.
One of the most famous examples of this is that of Nazarin Zaghari- Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman who was arrested in Iran in 2016 and charged with being a spy. Both she and her family vehemently denied this claim; she was on a private visit to see her parents with her young daughter and was not, as they said, working as a journalist. Boris Johnson, the then Foreign Secretary, made a remark to the effect that journalism was not spying, and that she was “simply teaching journalism” – which she wasn’t – he was wrong. However, the Iranian authorities used this in court to convict her. Why wouldn’t they – a senior British politician had contradicted Nazarin (albeit unwittingly), and she wasn’t released until 2022.
Now of course, that was primarily due to the then Foreign Secretary failing to do his research, and in such a powerful position, you really need to do your research, lives hang on it. However, we are all guilty of being misleading and filling in gaps in our knowledge, wrongly trusting our own memory (fatally), and colouring it with assumptions.
I myself upset someone very dear to me recently, when in a moment of stress and completely locked in my own world, I said something that, given the situation she was in, which I hadn’t fully comprehended, was hurtful.
Moving on to The Archers – an everyday tale of country folk…
Oliver, the owner of Grey Gables, the country house hotel, who is up against it financially, overhears his hotel manager Ahdil saying to his sister over the phone that he wanted to run away. As he had previously run away, and caused the current financial mess by doing so, and put Oliver in the horse manure, Oliver came storming in furiously accusing him of actually intending to run away. But Ahdil was only talking things through with his sister and getting some support, and voicing what he didn’t want to do, but had felt compelled to do in the past.
First misconception on Oliver’s part.
Also, what Oliver hadn’t understood was why Ahdil had run away in the first place. In true soap opera style, Ahdil proceeded to tell him about his tragic back story, bringing on the empathy from Oliver.
OK, it’s a drama, but we use drama to explore human relationships and behaviour.
It’s a minefield saying anything at all sometimes, because we cannot fully know the personal situation of our listener, or what they are going though currently, or their history… We can empathise with what we know, but empathy is the act of making an attempt to understand while not being able to see completely into someone’s soul and mind.
How does it get so complicated?
Well, as humans our brains can deal with up to 11 million pieces of information a second! Impossible to gauge exactly how much an individual brain is dealing with, but there is a lot of information needing to be processed. Clearly, most of this has to be going on behind the scenes, in the unconscious part of our brain, so we are not consciously aware of what is being done with the information.
According to the NEURO linguistic communication model developed by Dr Tad James, we are filtering external events through our own biased senses of reality. These senses are based on memories, attitudes, beliefs, and our personality. This results in our perception of what we want to hear.
I would add our perception of what we are familiar with, and so feel is our truth.
And all this is being done unconsciously.
There is so much information going into our heads externally that we cannot deal with it all consciously, and so we are often unaware of the decisions on interpretation being made unconsciously in our own heads.
Three main ways that we deal with it to make some sense and come to some conclusions are through:
Deletion – forgetting or deleting information.
Distortion – recalling facts differently from others that you were having the same conversation with.
Generalisation – making blanket statements or assumptions.
So what to do to avoid ‘foot in mouth’ syndrome, or to cause harm through either carelessly stated opinion or making false assumptions?
Clearly ear-wigging, i.e. listening in on the fag ends of other people’s conversations – particularly when you can’t hear the other person’s response; is probably something to avoid in general.
One of the simplest things to do is to breathe, think, and then speak.
Sounds simple doesn’t it?
The simplest things often get overlooked.
Breathe fully so that you have enough oxygen in your brain to help it function properly.
Take a moment to think mindfully before you say something. This involves bringing the situation to our conscious mind to make some sense of it outside the personal filters of our own mind. You will be able to strip away some of the personal biases and rationalise fears, contextualise the situation outside your own experience. You’ll make a better judgement.
Use assumptions sparingly!
If you only have a partial understanding of the situation, question your own filling in of any gaps. Understand that your own fears will get in the way.
If in doubt – say nothing!!!
If you would like to find out more about my coaching and training services, to speak with confidence, breathe fully, and speak mindfully, contact me via email to Fiona Whytehead, or book a discovery call.