Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Use Your Words"

I have a son who likes to use his elbow to communicate to his brothers that they have trespassed into his personal space. Instead of expressing a humble or polite “excuse me,” his deftly angled elbow communicates for him that a perpetrator is in his way. I’ve repeatedly reminded him, “Use your words.”

Recently, I was helping another son with his math. When I asked him to explain why he worked a problem in a particular way, he couldn’t articulate it to me. He gave explanations like, “I dunno.” or “It’s what I did before.” or “It just seems like I should.”  I kept prodding him to try to describe his thought process to show comprehension. I urged, “Use your words!”

As for myself, I’ve taken on a new challenge: to never say someone, “I can’t tell you how much that means to me!” or “Words can’t express how grateful I am!” I feel like that is as much of a cop-out as the two previous examples of my sons not using their words. In this case, I need to remind myself: “Use your words!”

Why, when we want to express gratitude to someone, do we so often respond with a dull, “I can’t even tell you how much that means to me”? Sometimes we tweak it by saying, “Words can’t express how grateful I am.” Really? We are accusing words of being ineffective communicators? What would Shakespeare say to that? Could his cup of words work adequately for him in expressing his thoughts?

This conviction has been solidifying in my mind for a while, so now when I hear these comments made, I want to plead with the other person, “Try!” “Please just try to use your words to express what’s inside of you!” I want to know you! I want to know what’s in your heart and how you feel about things.

It’s a bit risky and vulnerable to choose and verbalize words that describe what we are feeling. It also takes some time because we have to actually stop to ponder what the gift or action does mean to us. But words and languages are gifts! Let’s unwrap them, use them, and share them with others.  Friendships are so blessed when we use words to express how we feel. (I think of Anne Shirley as the queen of expressing her gratitude!)  A couple well thought-out sentences are often enough to clearly and deeply tell a friend how she has blessed me. I want to continue to challenge myself:  “Use your words!”

So whether we are communicating to brothers, explaining math computations, or thanking a friend, the exhortation will continue to ring in our home: “Use your words!”  

“All words are pegs to hang ideas on.”
~Henry Ward Beecher
“The limits of my language are the limits of my mind.”
~Ludwig Wittgenstein


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