If you spent any time over the last two weeks watching or listening to the Republican and Democratic conventions, there is one fact that probably goes without saying: there is great power in words. The prime time focus of both conventions has been on the series of speeches that have been given each evening. Tens of thousands, or perhaps it’s closer to hundreds of thousands, of words have been spoken in hopes of inspiring, educating, and motivating all who have been watching and listening. Words are that important. They have the power to both inspire and bring out the best in ourselves and others, as well as the power to break down and bring out the worst in ourselves and others.
I know very little about giving a political speech and so I’ll leave it to the experts in that arena to comment on the words that have been shared at the conventions these last two weeks. I do know something however about the kinds of words that build up and inspire people and families, as well as the kinds of words that have the opposite effect.
Many of us are familiar with the advice to, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” A few years ago I learned a third phrase to add to this already great piece of advice, “Don’t say it mean.”
Say what you mean.
Mean what you say.
Don’t say it mean.
There is much wisdom in just these three short sentences. Like a lot of advice, it takes a moment to learn, but a lifetime to master.
The first phrase, “Say what you mean,” captures the importance of communicating clearly with one another what we think, feel, and believe. It is in everyone’s best interest to confidently and consistently say what we mean when speaking with others. Other people cannot read our minds and hearts, and so the best way for others to know what we think and feel is to simply say what we mean.
The second line of this saying, “Mean what you say,” speaks to another key aspect of effective communication. Meaning what we say is the foundation of integrity and it is how we build and sustain trust in relationships. For example, when I apologize to someone I have hurt and say, “I’m sorry,” I need to truly mean what I say and not say it simply because I think it’s what the other person wants to hear.
The third line, “Don’t say it mean” is sometimes the most difficult. We live in a culture that celebrates the put down and the mocking and demonizing of the other. The epidemic of violence in our culture not only includes the physical assaults of others, but the verbal assaults of others as well. Somewhere along the line, it seems that people decided that they could increase their power by raising their voice in anger and by attacking. If we can avoid saying things in a mean way, we will actually have a better chance of getting our point across and being heard. The words we use and the way we use them clearly have great power. The way we speak to one another has the power to strengthen relationships (even in the midst of profound differences) and it has the power to break down and destroy relationships. The choice is ours. We get to choose what words we will use and how we will speak them to one another.
I, for one, am casting my vote for, “Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Don’t say it mean.”