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the social animal and words

September 27, 2011

I am currently reading The Social Animal by New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks. Tracing the fictional lives of characters Harold and Erica, Brooks draws on scientific findings to answer the question of how human beings flourish.

Last night I was reading about why Harold and Erica had a difficult marriage. Renowned therapist John Gottman suggests that a clear sign of a healthy marriage is that in communication, for every negative comment a spouse makes 5 positive comments.

I have never done the research myself, but I totally buy into Gottman’s conclusion. Those are wise words of advice for any relationship. Words have power. They shape our sense of self. They can make us feel invincible or the lowest scum on earth. Words also create. If I tend to say more negative things than positive, I create an atmosphere of death and not life. No marriage or any relationship flourishes in an atmosphere of death.

I was sobered last night. It was good to be reminded of my capacity to hurt others (especially my wife) by my words. However, Harold and Erica’s rocky marriage was not a result a critical attitude but rather a lack of words. They didn’t verbally interact with each other.

Life is busy and difficult. A day can go by without realizing it. So, it is hard to see those we love and it is even harder to intentionally say nice and life-giving things.  The author of Proverbs 16:24 writes the following:

“Gracious words are like honeycomb,

sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

It is not enough to avoid negative comments. For words to be honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the body, you have say them.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Angela Wheeless permalink
    September 27, 2011 9:40 pm

    I forwarded this blog post to my boss. I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of my own words over the last few weeks, so this blog post was very timely for me. Both personally and professionally, it’s so important to be reminded of the motivating and destructive effects our words can have on others. Simple compliments or acknowledgments to a co-worker can have a huge impact on productivity and motivation, just as insults, gossip and unhealthy criticism can alienate and destroy relationships. Thank you for sharing.

  2. September 28, 2011 3:48 pm

    You’re welcome! I am glad the words were helpful.

    If you have not read Brooks book, I recommend it. It is filled with thought provoking material!

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