Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Words Do Make a Difference

In my recent guest post on The BridgeMaker, I referred to the common call and response in church when the minister says, “This is the day the Lord has made,” and the congregation responds, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I bemoaned what I perceived as the congregation’s lack of enthusiasm in the often rote, monotone response, instead of what should be, in my thinking, a glorious affirmation of the miraculous gift of each precious day.

Rose Byrd very tactfully took me to task in her gracious comment. “Just saying the words may take a few moments to ‘sink in,’ but I have found over the years that the simple words DO make a difference!” She’s right, of course.

I can immediately think of two examples proving her point.

When my foster daughter Grace joined the family, she and Mia enjoyed only a brief honeymoon period before the fur started flying. Over time, their animosity became so entrenched that their attacks were automatic. They seemed incapable of seeing, let alone respecting, the other person’s perspective. Each saw herself as the victim of the other, on the receiving end of unwarranted meanness, self-righteous in retaliation.

I did everything I knew to do. We processed ourselves silly, went to counseling, discussed to exhaustion. Finally, I realized that getting them to understand the situation was a futile endeavor. Each was dug in too deeply. I decided I didn’t really care anymore if they “got it.” I needed the behavior to change, regardless of their understanding.

So I sat them down at the table and made a proposal based on the only thing I thought might motivate them – money. I promised to pay each of them $1 a day to get along. They had to be affirmatively nice to each other – ignoring each other was not enough. Only I got to decide at the end of the day if they earned the money. And either they both earned it or neither did. They would make money or not as a team.

The next day was a pleasure. They said please and thank you to each other. They offered to help each other with chores. They complimented each other. They were totally insincere, you understand. I didn’t care. Peace was restored.

By the time the novelty wore off after a few weeks, they had broken their habit. Over time I saw that they changed at a deeper level. They became genuinely kind to each other. The words that initially were spoken with thinly veiled contempt became words spoken in true friendship and affection.

Another time, it was I who was entrenched in hostility. I blamed someone for causing me so much stress and anguish that I thought I was going to die of it. I’ll call this person Fred. I blamed Fred for everything that seemed wrong with my life at that time, which was a lot. I hated Fred. I wanted bad things to happen to him. I fantasized about terrible things I’m too ashamed to describe. I felt no mercy. I wanted vengeance.

I repeatedly revisited all the wrongs I thought I had suffered at the hands of Fred, like watching news accounts of some horrible crime or natural disaster over and over. It was an addiction – a habit I couldn’t stop. And like any addiction, it was becoming unmanageable

My brain needed a new habit. Every time I thought about Fred, at the very instant I began to repeat my habitual pattern, I substituted a new thought before the emotions started churning. Before I was hooked. “God bless Fred and please help me mean it.” Let me be clear. I did not mean it. Not for a second. I did not mean the “God bless Fred” part, and sometimes I didn’t even mean the “please help me mean it” part.

Nevertheless, over weeks and months, very slowly, the blame loosened its grip. My heart began to soften. My feelings didn’t boil when thoughts about Fred crossed my mind. The thoughts didn’t come so often. By then, the prayer had become a habit, so that when a thought of Fred popped up, the blessing was automatically triggered. Sometimes I hardly noticed it. And finally one day I said it and gasped in amazement. I really did mean it. I really, truly wished Fred well. It was a miracle.

So my thanks to Rose, who reminded me of the innate power of words.

Let the weak say, “I am strong.” –Joel 3:10

Related posts: Kindness Pays; God Bless That Ol @#&!

39 comments:

  1. What great illustrations of how words affect our lives, consciously and subconsciously, until we "get it"! Divine inspiration. I followed
    breadcrumbs via granbee's site! Thank you for sharing. I also like your 10-steps on the sidebar. Blessings for a happy week!

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    1. becca, So glad you followed those breadcrumbs--welcome! I hope you'll visit again.

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  2. How true! Simply words can make us or break us. The same holds true for our emotions.....but it boils down to that old saying doesn't it.... give peace a chance....We just have to want to make it happen....Wishing you more miracles and a great week beginning very quickly!

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    1. Karen, What a lovely way to start my week. Thank you!

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  3. Breaking a deeply ingrained habit is a tough process, especially when it involves deep-seated emotional triggers. I like your "trick" of pretending to feel one way until that habit becomes automatic.

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    1. Bob, Like they say in AA, Fake it till you make it! It's not always appropriate or desirable, of course, but in the right situations it can be very successful.

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  4. Galen - another HOME RUN with this post! BRAVO!!!!

    I read last week which ties in nicely with this post -

    Watch your thoughts for they become words
    Watch your words for they become actions
    Watch your actions for they become habits
    Watch your habits for they become your character
    Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.

    Thank you for the reminder and the funny thing - yesterday at church service - a guest pastor mentioned - "this is the day the Lord has made - let us rejoice and be glad in it" and of course I thought of your post and I smiled and meant it!

    Living in the present moment of today,
    Thank you!
    Nancy

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    1. Nancy, I have this quote printed out and taped on my wall by the computer. Very powerful words! I especially appreciate the recognition of the importance of habits. Funny story about church! Now you will always think of that!

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  5. I need to practice saying these things...I am happy to do my affirmations everyday.

    I would also add that this is how the conservatives create sound bites that people believe...I took a workshop on how radio jocks and Hellfire Preachers used this system to get their way It is the whole basis of advertizing. Familiarity can change a habit, it can also create a mindset

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    1. Patricia, So true. This is a form of brainwashing in a way, isn't it?! So it's up to us to determine which messages are aligned with our spirits and which aren't. Very good point. Thanks.

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  6. 'My brain needed a new habit.' This is so true. I have had to do this a time or two. Changing how we feel and what we think starts with creating new habits in the brain.

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    1. Alida, It took me awhile to connect my feelings to my thinking habits, but you are right. That's where how we feel starts.

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  7. A very timily post for me today. Thanks for your experiences and your wisdom. I loved how you handled the daughters struggles. I would like to say everyday that This is the Day The Lord has made and truly rejoice in it. At least this would be a great mantra to remember everyday. Blessings and thanks for a great read.

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    1. LeAnn, I'm glad you appreciate how I handled my daughters' struggle, because I will tell you I felt pretty defeated by the time I stooped to paying them to be nice to each other!

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  8. Galen,

    You have given me some wonderful ideas to an issue I am facing. I may just try them myself. Thank you for sharing how your ideas have worked for you!

    With love,
    Evelyn

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    1. Evelyn, Good luck with your situation. I hope these ideas will help.

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  9. Hi Galen,

    The power of words can be strong if we say it often enough for it to "sink in" as your friend Rose Byrd mentioned. They crux here is how long the process would actually take. But if it is important enough for us to make a repeated effort, it should sink in sooner than later.

    I love the story you shared about Grace and Mia. It certainly reminds me of all the stories I have read about wars in science-fiction worlds. Two people might hate each others guts. But when they are forced to get along and work together, over time they will come to see each other in a new light. They have to genuinely make the effort if they are to survive. As a result, their perception of each other will change from one-dimensional to multidimensional.

    The Yijing also mentions such a situation where two daughters do not get along. This is the advice it gives:

    "When people live in opposition and estrangement they cannot carry out a great undertaking in common; their points of view diverge too widely. In such circumstances one should above all not proceed brusquely, for that would only increase the existing opposition; instead, one should limit oneself to producing gradual effects in small matters. Here success can still be expected, because the situation is such that the opposition does not preclude all agreement."

    It is a matter of finding common ground. No matter how much we made hate or dislike someone, there will always be common ground if we make the effort to find it under the right circumstances. Over time, words that may have been false becomes genuine due to shared experiences.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

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    1. Irving, Thanks for sharing the advice from the Yijing. Apparently, squabbling daughters is not an unusual thing, even in ancient China! Your expertise gained from in depth study of war is always intriguing to me. What a difference even in war when the two parties treat each other with honor and respect.

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  10. It's so hard to bless someone whom we are angry at. But the mind is such that when we condition it, it will follow eventually.

    I would usually say in my head "I love you!" whenever the dark feelings about that particular person come or when face to face with the person - I adopted this from Ho'oponopono.

    Thanks for sharing, Galen.

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    1. Inspiring, "I love you" works, too. Anything that breaks our hamster wheel repetition of hostile and vengeful thoughts will help create a new thinking habit. Thanks for the alternative words.

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  11. I'm a big fan of the fake it 'til you feel it method!

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    1. Carrie, I've come to love it! It's a fine balance between being honest and phony, as someone said. Pema Chodron says it's not phony if we are not deluding ourselves but rather aspiring to bring ourselves out of a negative pattern.

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  12. There is so much power in our words, Galen. I couldn't agree with you more. Too often we, as humans, tend to forget how much power lies in our tongue. If taken into consideration and choosing words more wisely before saying them, I believe that many would have a more prosperous and abundant life. That does not mean wealth or riches per say, but we're able to access and attract more in our lives if we think about what we're saying, and speaking into existence. I really enjoyed reading your story here. Very nice post! :)

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    1. Deeone, What a great phrase, "speaking into existence." I'm going to remember that one. Thanks for stopping by!

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  13. I love both stories. I have a situation I need to work on like that. I will, by George! Thx for the idea.

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    1. Sandra, Let me know how things work out!

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  14. Hi Galen,

    This was a really good post.

    I loved the way you changed your attitude and feelings towards Fred. I do something similar at the end of a meditation sitting, when I wish for all beings, including those I don't like much, to experience real happiness and are free from suffering.

    At the beginning it used to be a little strange, but the more I did this with people I didn't like, over time my feelings towards them changed, and I ended up creating a lot of compassion for them.

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    1. Hiten, I'm familiar with that wish for all beings. When I learned it, we were instructed to start with folks we loved, then to folks for whom we had neutral feelings, and finally to those towards whom we felt dislike or animosity. It does take practice, but we can awaken compassion for all beings through that process. Thanks for commenting.

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  15. Hi Galen,

    Oh no - my son's name is Fred!

    I went through a period a couple of years ago where I really felt that same way - the tape kept replaying in my head. After a few days, I realized that I could NOT approach the situation that way or it would hold me captive and I would just damage myself further. That is when the spirituality element kicked in full force for me. I had to monitor my thoughts - All. Of. Them. Not easy at the time but I am much better now :) It goes without saying that what we speak is equally important - words and the feelings they evoke.

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    1. Julie, Okay, let's call him Bret! Ha! In fact, "Fred" takes on a different name when I tell the story in person to a group, because there is almost always someone with whatever name I choose. We end up making up crazy names so no one is offended!

      You are so right that our negative thoughts hold us captive and do harm to our own spirits. All the more aggravating since the people towards whom we have these feelings are often going on with their lives in blissful disregard of our distress!

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  16. Words wouldn't exist if they did not have a power beyond our imagination. I love reading your daughters and how they danced with the idea of each other without really connecting initially (that's how I see it anyway).
    Your post made me think of countries in war...people at war...the division of people because of beliefs/religion.
    How trivial everything is, when we consider how short our life is here.

    xxo Galen

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    1. Salma, I love your image of the dance. And yes, I so agree about the division of people because of beliefs and religion. So sad. Especially when the original teachings of all major religions promote peace and brotherhood among all people. Your last point says it all. Life is too short to spend it in separation from each other over petty differences.

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  17. Hi Galen,

    That's an amazing story about Grace and Mia. That was incredibly clever of you too. And, of course, your own story of changing your feelings toward Fred is pretty amazing too. This is a great testimony to how we can indeed train and tame our mind!

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    1. Sandra, I would love to say that my solution for Grace and Mia was clever and showed great parenting skills. The reality is that I was exhausted and desperate. I didn't even tell anyone what I had done for a long time because I was embarrassed to admit that I resorted to paying my kids to be nice to each other. In retrospect, it was the best financial investment I ever made, a bargain at twice the price! Ha!

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  18. I wish I had thought of bribery when my children were in their teens. One summer we fostered two teen girls. Along with our four children. Three of ours were teens also. We had six very spiteful children under one roof. I wonder if bribery would have helped.

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    1. Wonderful post Galen. Love the way you found a solution for the 2 girls. I shall remember the way to make a new habit, when someone does me wrong.

      Thank and Gods blessing to you,
      Debbie

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    2. Bonnie, Six spiteful children under one roof. Now there is an image that every parent can relate to and shudder over! I don't know if bribery would have helped, but I might have tried it!

      Debbie, Thanks for the kind words. I hope the habit technique works for you.

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  19. Great story Galen... I think we've all probably been there. I love your frankness and honesty... and learning how you handled it. That was brilliant. And you're right. We can train ourselves to change our thinking [and soften our heart in the process] Thanks for another great post :-)

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    1. Jean, Yes, I think many of us can relate! Sometimes brilliance is born of desperation!

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