By Ron Tatro, Director of Michigan Elder Justice Coordinating Council at Elder Law of Michigan
Today it seems that most of our information and content comes to us from social media and other virtual platforms. Much of my professional career has been spent in the public forum giving presentations, teaching, and mentoring. Most of this content has been provided through the spoken word. This influx of alternative methods of communication has me thinking about the usage and value of the spoken word today.
For many of our fellow citizens, the spoken word by public leaders has created both positive and negative possibilities. The spoken word has informed, influenced, created division, and saved lives. While the public spoken word has both great and grave influence, I choose to think about the more personal areas of life and the weight of those words.
How many times in your life have you used words to bring comfort, peace, support, or guidance to a friend or loved one? How many times have you created discomfort, expressed anger, or made distasteful comments about someone?
When I was a young child there was a monster that lived in my clothes closet. Each night he would creep into the closet and wait for me. And each night, my mother would come into my room, open the closet door, and chase the monster away, telling me it was okay to go to sleep.
How many times have we seen a father comfort a small child with an injury or support his daughter when she is being teased at school? Those words have both consequences and impact.
Sometimes the words spoken by others impact more than you know. I started my professional life as a police officer. On a hot August afternoon, I was called to the scene of a motor vehicle accident. A car was upside down and a young woman was trapped inside. People were trying to help and offering words of reassurance. As I approached the car, I heard someone say to her, “It will be okay, the police officer is here.” In that instant, I realized both, the awesome power and responsibility I had been given. I know that most educators, medical professionals, and countless other professionals also feel that way.
So, how well do we choose our words:
- The message sent is often not the message received. Factors include not only the words, but the context, environment, and the way the message is conveyed. Try to see it from the other side of the discussion.
- Use words that are appropriate for the situation. Ex. Do not use medical terminology with a sick friend unless they bring it up. Share words of reflection, understanding, and support.
- Let the other person control the conversation. Be a good listener.
- Be accountable for your words. A former president once said that he was never accountable for something he did NOT say. Remember to measure your words.
The spoken word is one of the most powerful means of human communication. Use those words to cultivate kindness and understanding. If you have a choice to be nice, take it.
Until the Next Time
Ron Tatro joined Elder Law of Michigan in 2007 as the Director of Consumer Fraud and Elder Abuse Prevention Services. He is currently the Director of the Michigan Elder Justice Coordinating Council providing services to community based elder abuse prevention projects throughout Michigan.